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March 16, 2010
Toronto moms need more breastfeeding support
Toronto Public Health (TPH) has released a report showing that Toronto birthing hospitals need to do more to support women to breastfeed, and in particular, to breastfeed exclusively up to six months after giving birth.

In “Breastfeeding in Toronto - Promoting Supportive Environments,” TPH surveyed 1,500 first-time mothers two weeks and six months after giving birth, and asked them about their breastfeeding experience. Toronto’s 10 birthing hospitals were also asked to assess their performance based on the Baby-Friendly designation, a globally recognized standard of best practices for infant feeding.

The report found that almost all mothers initiated breastfeeding while in hospital, and six months later, almost three-quarters of them continued some breastfeeding. However, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only - no other foods) was only 63 per cent at discharge, declining to 17.5 per cent six months later.

“Because of the proven nutritional and health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, these low rates at hospital discharge and the very low rates at six months postpartum are cause for concern,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. “There is room for significant improvement.”

The study also indicates that providing free infant formula to mothers when they leave hospital reduces the likelihood that women will exclusively breastfeed to six months. Thirty-nine per cent of mothers surveyed were given formula at hospital discharge.

“I am asking hospitals to help improve exclusive breastfeeding rates by becoming Baby-Friendly facilities,” said Dr. McKeown. “This includes having a comprehensive breastfeeding policy, help for mothers to initiate breastfeeding within a half-hour of birth, and ensuring newborns are not given food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated.”

Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for both mother and baby. It reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as gastrointestinal, ear and respiratory infections during infancy and childhood. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of diabetes and of being overweight or obese during adolescence and adulthood.

Interviews with mothers also indicated that women who felt comfortable breastfeeding in public were more likely to continue breastfeeding to six months, reflecting the importance of creating supportive environments for mothers to breastfeed anywhere, any time.

TPH assessed its own breastfeeding policies as part of the study and identified a number of areas requiring improvement in order to achieve the World Health Organization’s Baby-Friendly designation.

The full report and accompanying documents are available at

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. Toronto has won numerous awards for quality, innovation and efficiency in delivering public services. Toronto's government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents. For information about non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Media contact:
Susan Sperling,
Toronto Public Health,



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