Nunavut MLA presses health minister on travel restrictions for breastfeeding moms
“Our government … does not permit breastfeeding mothers to act as medical escorts”
Kugluktuk MLA Mila Kamingoak rose in the Nunavut legislature last week to champion the rights of the territory’s breastfeeding mothers and their babies.
Kamingoak, who is a mother of five, wants the Health Department to drop its policy that restricts breastfeeding mothers from bringing their breastfed babies with them when they serve as medical escorts for their other children.
“I rise today to challenge our government to live up to its own promise to support breastfeeding mothers, not just for one-shot publicity stunts, but for everyday life, helping breastfeeding mothers provide their infant children with the best nutrition possible while also raising their families to the best of their ability,” Kamingoak said in an Oct. 24 members statement.
Kamingoak told how during World Breastfeeding Week, the Health Department called on all Nunavut mothers to participate in its breastfeeding challenge, with promises of refreshments, games, prizes, and information about how breastfeeding is best.
And earlier in July, the government issued its “accommodating breastfeeding” policy, which commits to providing GN employees accommodations and space in the workplace for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.
But she said the Government of Nunavut needs to do more.
Kamingoak said she finds it “very disturbing that our government, while indicating that it supports breastfeeding, then does not permit breastfeeding mothers to act as medical escorts to their other children who also need their mother’s comfort and love in a difficult and frightening time.”
By not permitting a breastfeeding mother to accompany her child on medical travel, the Health Department makes mothers decide which child to care for, the one needing medical attention or the one who is breastfeeding, Kamingoak said.
“As a mother myself, I can only imagine the distress this situation must cause…. I would always choose my children over anything else,” she said.
Last June, A Baker Lake family spoke out about how the medical travel policy posed a major hurdle to them.
When Shannon Arsenault booked a medical appointment for her four-year-old son in Winnipeg, she planned to bring along her four-month-old daughter on the trip, who was breastfeeding.
Arsenault said her GN-employed husband couldn’t take time off work to escort their son himself.
During the booking process, Arsenault discovered the policy prevented her from bringing her baby daughter along, even though infants travel on a parent’s lap and don’t require a separate airfare. She appealed and was finally able to take her baby along.
“It does not seem right that our government states on the one hand that it supports breastfeeding mothers, while on the other hand it sets up barriers by preventing mothers from accompanying and caring for their other children while breastfeeding their baby,” Kamingoak said.
Accommodations must be made to support breastfeeding mothers in all aspects of family life, whether on medical travel, at home, in the workplace, or at an event to celebrate the fact that “breastfeeding is best,” she said.
Health Minister George Hickes said the GN “strongly” encourages breastfeeding to all mothers across the territory.
“Whenever there’s an individual case, if they’re denied as an escort, there’s always an appeals process,” he said.
Hickes said that the health care of the patient going south is the priority.
“If the mother is the person who wants to travel with that other child and she’s breastfeeding and it won’t interfere with her being able to care for that other child, absolutely there’s no problem with that,” he said.
Kamingoak wanted Hickes to commit to instructing his officials to review his department’s medical travel policy concerning client escorts to enable breastfeeding mothers to accompany their other children when they need to travel for medical care.
Hickes said the Health Department started a review of the entire medical travel process, including escorts, in April 2017 with any changes slated to come into effect in April 2019.