Breast-milk brouhaha at Burnaby Hospital

Ever wonder why so few Canadian moms breast-feed their babies exclusively for the first six months, as is recommended by Health Canada and the World Health Organization?

Look no further than Burnaby Hospital. Two of the province’s most experienced lactation consultants recently resigned, claiming that many of their coworkers are ambivalent in their support of breast-feeding.

Lactation consultants Renee Hefti-Graham and Linda Good, who have over 40 years of experience in the field between them, quit after a flap over a presentation organized by infant-formula producer Nestlé Nutrition, a stand-alone organization within Nestlé.

The presentation, which was to be held at the city’s Hilton Vancouver Metrotown hotel, included cocktails and dinner. The topic: baby nutrition and formula. The hitch: the event violated the WHO’s 1981 International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which Canada and the B.C. health ministry have endorsed. The code says that formula companies shouldn’t offer “financial or material inducements” to health-care providers to promote their products.

Despite this, a Burnaby Hospital staff member forwarded an invitation for the event to employees via an internal mailing list.

Nestlé cancelled the wine-and-dine after breast-feeding supporters peppered the company with protest e-mails. B.C. health minister George Abbott also weighed in with a letter in which an official writing on his behalf stated, “it is clear that Nestle is violating” the WHO code.

Hefti-Graham told the Straight that she and Good finally said adios after their manager refused to distance herself from the Nestlé session and dismissed as “propaganda” WHO documents on proper hospital practices regarding the promotion of breast-feeding.

“We just didn’t feel supported,” Hefti-Graham said.

The Fraser Health Authority, which oversees the hospital, did not make a spokesperson available for interview by deadline.