I realize that there's a perception that things are 'just fine' with respect to breastfeeding rates in Canada, however, the duration of breastfeeding rates has been declining since 1960:
Recent Canadian statistics show that while almost 75% of mothers begin breastfeeding in hospital, only 60% and 30% are still exclusively breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months, respectively (Health Canada, 1996). By 9 months, only 18% of mothers still breastfed in a Vancouver cohort (Williams et al., 1996). Breastfeeding trends vary across the provinces; rates are higher in the west and drop off from Quebec to the east (Health Canada, 1996). Breastfeeding initiation and maintenance rates increase with increasing education and income levels. This suggests that there are many social factors that influence the method of infant feeding (Health Canada, 1996).
There are a number of things parents-to-be can do to increase the likelihood of a successful breastfeeding relationship, however, it is fair to suggest that more can be done to improve breastfeeding rates. If the Canadian government is going to recommend breastfeeding children until two years of age, it's not outrageous to suggest the government can do more to increase breastfeeding rates across the country.
Introduce information about breastfeeding into the school curriculum. Children need to know what breasts are for. Not all children are exposed to breastfeeding women and babies, introducing the idea of breastfeeding at an early age will help children develop a healthy attitude towards breastfeeding.
Encourage the use of human milk banks. Historically, babies who were not breastfed by their mothers were breastfed by relatives, friends, or hired help. Donated breastmilk is the next best thing to a mother's own breastmilk. Mothers who donate to human milk banks are medically screened, and their breastmilk is pasteurized. There is only one human milk bank in Canada -- why aren't there more?
Make formula available by prescription only. Harsh? Maybe, but it would reinforce the idea that formula should be a last-case resort. Obviously, donated human milk would have to be readily available to make prescription-only formula feasible.
Make lactation consultations a government-funded health service. Lactation consultants typically charge upwards of $70.00 per hour, however, it is money well-spent when you consider the health benefits offered to a mother and her baby by a successful breastfeeding relationship. If mothers need help, financial status should not determine who gets help.
Make ongoing, formal breastfeeding education compulsory for all physicians. I am SHOCKED at the stories I hear from women about incorrect advice received from the medical establishment. Clearly, many doctors are not capable of dispensing medical advice as it relates to a breastfeeding baby, or a lactating mother. Often the first line of defense when breastfeeding problems are encountered, they should be in a position to help, not hamper, the breastfeeding relationship.
As a first-time mother, Giselle Bündchen approached the subject with a holier-than-thou self-righteousness we have all been guilty of at some time or other. However, I think her motivation behind making the suggestion was a noble one. A positive attitude towards breastfeeding should not be mistaken as judgement against those who were not able to breastfeed their babies. The next time Ms. Bundchen chooses to speak out in favor of breastfeeding, I hope she chooses her words more carefully.