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National Breastfeeding Week Article: Covid changes and Colostrum Harvesting

National Breastfeeding Week 2021

Helen Byrt and Carmen Murphy UMHL CMM2s
From left to right: Carmen Murphy and Helen Byrt

MATERNITY services have been forced to adapt delivery of care due to the pandemic but COVID-19 has not prevented a number of new initiatives around breastfeeding at UMHL, as Helen Byrt and Carmen Murphy, Clinical Midwife Managers in Infant Feeding, write.

COVID-19 has brought many challenges for new mothers. Here at University Maternity Hospital Limerick, we have endeavoured throughout to continue to provide quality information and support to assist mothers to get breastfeeding off to a good start.

Breastfeeding has many proven health benefits for mother and baby. The World Health Organisation and the HSE recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life; with the addition of solid food at six months and continued breastfeeding to two years and beyond. Immediate skin-to-skin contact at birth – placing the baby on the mother’s chest as soon as it is born - and early, frequent feeding and timely support all help to get breastfeeding established.

Breastfeeding is the normal, natural way to feed a baby but it can be challenging in the first few weeks and some mothers will need additional support. At UMHL there is a lactation team that supports mothers with infant feeding and it is one of the few maternity units in the country that provide seven-day specialised breastfeeding support. The team is comprised of midwives and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). They provide telephone support and video consultations and also work closely with IBCLC colleagues in the community.

We took up our post as managers in infant feeding in July 2020. We had to immediately adapt to a whole new way of providing antenatal breastfeeding classes and online support. UMHL currently runs two breastfeeding classes a month with up to 80 couples attending. While the face-to-face interaction is missed, mothers and their partners can attend safely from the comfort of their living rooms and still have the facility to ask any questions they wish.

Earlier this year, a Colostrum Harvesting Class commenced. This takes place on a Wednesday afternoon and is facilitated by Carmen. Colostrum is the first milk produced by the breast and is also known as “liquid gold” because of its importance to new babies in protecting them from infection.

Antenatal harvesting is when colostrum is collected by hand from the breast during pregnancy before the baby is born. It is known that exclusive breastfeeding - when a baby has nothing else to eat or drink for the first six months - has many health benefits. There are situations where a baby may need additional milk feeds and in these cases having a supply of colostrum ready can be helpful.

It can also help a mother to start her breastfeeding with a good sense of how to hand express and confidence about how her breasts work. Any interested pregnant mother is encouraged to speak to her midwife or doctor to decide if colostrum harvesting is suitable for her.

Staff education is a major part of our role and we frequently run staff breastfeeding refresher study days and provide education/information sessions to nursing students, midwifery students and medical personnel.

Breastfeeding rates in Ireland are among the lowest in the world but in July 2021 UMHL saw its highest initiation rate ever with 67.3% of babies having breast milk as their first feed. More information on breastfeeding and breastfeeding support is available at www.mychild.ie/breastfeeding.

Helen Byrt and Carmen Murphy

CMM2 Infant feeding

National Breastfeeding Week is taking place October 1st to 7th with the theme this year of “Feeding the Future-Supporting Breastfeeding through the Pandemic and Beyond”