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Breastfeeding support group moves online

This Following Up feature looks at how a local breastfeeding support group has moved its gatherings to the internet in the wake of COVID-19
Peer volunteer Elisha Pobega, left, chats with new moms at the Breastfeeding Cafe in 2016. GuelphToday file photo

Staying socially connected is critical for new parents who want to maintain healthy breastfeeding practices. 

While parents are in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guelph Community Health Centre is making sure families continue to receive the support they need with the ‘We Breastfeed & Chestfeed Virtual Café’. 

“This is a family-friendly social space where parents and expectant mothers can still have those important social parenting conversations. It’s so important to stay socially connected especially now,” says Nicole Barrette, coordinator at We Breastfeed & Chestfeed – Guelph Community Health Centre. 

Ontario has a 90 per cent breastfeeding initiation rate according to Barrette, but if there is a lack of support and resources, participation can dwindle quickly. 

“With COVID-19, this is a food security issue, and an immunity issue, and breastfeeding is more important now than ever. If families are unsuccessful with feeding during these times, they are going to go out looking for formula,” Barrette said. 

“The convenience factor of breastfeeding is huge.”

New parents need the encouragement. It might be something simple. Whatever the obstacle, it can often be fixed. 

“We want to be there to help,” Barrette says. 

Every Friday, the virtual café, a free program, offers group conversation as well as one-on-one breast milk feeding and chestfeeding support. 

“The virtual room will allow a parent and a peer support volunteer to move to a new space to have a one-on-one conversation if needed,” Barrette said. 

Before going virtual, Breastfeeding & Chestfeeding Café participants were meeting on Fridays at the Guelph Public Library and in the gymnasium at Shelldale Family Gateway on Tuesdays. 

Anyone who needs infant feeding help, support and reassurance are welcome to join the virtual café, which is open to all new and expecting parents in Guelph. 

“It’s a group conversation led by participants and facilitated by peer volunteers. These are parents who participated in the program, took the training and are now paying it forward,” Barrette said. 

“It’s the social outlet especially now, that is so important but today, we are also so concerned about breastfeeding rates.”

In normal circumstances, breastfeeding numbers decrease when infants reach 3 months and 6 months. But with COVID-19, these numbers can decline even more without adequate support. 

Health Canada recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.

Breast milk provides optimal nutrition, has the right amount of nutrients, is easily digested and is readily available. 

Other benefits include, reduced allergies, reduced rates of diabetes and infections such as respiratory, ear and gastro infections as well as asthma. Breast milk is loaded with antibodies that help fight off viruses and bacteria. 

“We follow feeding practices from the beginning all the way through, even when solid foods are introduced.,” Barrette says.

“And we will continue this. We’ve always wanted to go virtual anyway so during this unfortunate time, it’s made us move ahead but we hope to continue it even after for those who can’t get out.”

The program has been running since 2006. The cafe since 2013.

“The initiative, at first, was for people who didn’t speak English. Since then, it’s become universal and we are always looking for families who speak other languages to volunteer and they do,” Barrette said. 

“Telephone support is great but with the café, this is what forms community and solidarity. No one can feel empathy more than those who have walked in the same shoes. The peer support is integral in finding our way in society and Guelph is so rich in resources. But peer support also helps in finding our way as parents.”

We Breastfeed and Chestfeed is all inclusive and welcomes all gender bending families. 

“That’s why we say ‘chestfeeding’ as well,” Barrette said. 

“This is a way to form many long-lasting relationships. We all have different philosophies and parenting styles, but we all have one thing in common and that is being parents.”

Anyone interested in joining the virtual café can visit the We Breastfeed & Chestfeed Virtual Café – Guelph Community Health Centre Facebook page, call (519) 821-6638 ext. 301 or e-mail