New research to explore breastfeeding practices of refugee mothers

A first-of-its-kind research project in Saskatchewan will gain insight into the needs of refugee mothers who may need breastfeeding support to improve the health and development of their young children.

The research funded by Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation intends to uncover a range of factors that help or hinder breastfeeding practices of refugee mothers accessing health care services in Saskatchewan. 

Photo credit: University of Regina

Dr. Shela Hirani is an associate professor at the University of Regina’s Faculty of Nursing and will be leading the two-year study. She said one of the main goals of the study is to seek recommendations from refugee mothers regarding their need for breastfeeding support programs and interventions in Saskatchewan. The research will also aim to identify the health care programs and policies already available which promote and support breastfeeding practices of refugee mothers.

“We know healthy mothers mean healthy babies,” said Hirani. “By helping improve breastfeeding practices of refugee mothers in our province, it will benefit their young children.”

Saskatchewan has seen a growing refugee population with young children who were forced to flee their country of origin and seek refuge in Canada. Refugee mothers, as one of the vulnerable groups, are at high-risk to discontinue breastfeeding practices if they lack access to services or adequate health care support.

Refugee mothers from Regina, Prince Albert and Saskatoon who belong to diverse cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds with varied practices of breastfeeding will be eligible to participate in the study. Data will be collected through multiple methods, including in-depth interviews with mothers with children under the age of two, observation, and review of the available health care policies and services for refugee mothers in the province. 

“This research in Saskatchewan is just the start, as this project will entail future studies in this area. There is no such study in Saskatchewan, and in Canada, we found very few studies on this topic that were not targeted specifically on breastfeeding practices, but generalized on the refugee population,” explained Hirani.

The findings of this project will be useful for health care professionals, policymakers and agencies to identify the nature of breastfeeding support required for refugee mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding. Moreover, findings of this study will help develop need-based, culturally-appropriate and context-specific breastfeeding support interventions for these mothers. The finding of this study will also be disseminated to key stakeholders to share participants’ voices about recommendations to support breastfeeding practices.

Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation has partnered with Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation on our Research Grant Program, disbursing $345,600 in 2020 for innovative new maternal and pediatric research projects.

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