Halifax, NS (May 08, 2020) “The COVID-19 virus outbreak has triggered orders to limit social contact, impacting wages, as well as access to goods and services,” says Dr. Whitfield. “While we know that these emergency measures could change how Nova Scotians feed their babies, we haven’t experienced an emergency like this before.”

Dr. Kyly Whitfield is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Human Nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University. Her new research study will assess the self-perceived stress of primary caregivers of infants under six months old, and how the COVID-19 State of Emergency has impacted infant feeding in Nova Scotia.

“There are resources and public health messages available for short-term emergencies such as natural disasters or storms, but the current state of emergency is quite different,” says Dr. Whitfield. “For example, it could be difficult for families to find, or even afford, infant formula.”

Dr. Whitfield’s team is hoping to discover how the families of young infants are doing, what they’re feeding their babies, and what information they’re craving. A recent grant from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition will now help propel her work forward.

Dr. Whitfield is concerned that it might be difficult for breastfeeding moms to find the support they need to continue breastfeeding. For example, she is curious if having older children at home fulltime distracts or stresses caregivers or whether or not it stretches the food budget too tight. In any of these situations, families may turn to inappropriate foods to feed their babies, putting them at risk of nutrient deficiencies or other health risks. Alternatively, families could also be doing quite well.

“Breastfeeding is actively promoted in emergency settings around the world,” says Dr. Whitfield. “Not only does breastfeeding provide immediate food delivery to infants at the right temperature and formulation, but it also provides various immunological bioactives that can help prevent illnesses.”

An online survey, open until May 15, aims to collect information from the caregivers of young babies in Nova Scotia in order to better understand how these emergency measures have impacted their lives, how and what their baby eats, and how their households have responded to emergency measures. This study has the potential to inform future public health messages targeted for some of the most vulnerable in our population—infants.

“There are best practices and messages for infant feeding in emergencies, particularly in low-income countries, but messages for high-income emergencies are not very relevant in this case, as they were designed with natural disasters in mind,” says Dr. Whitfield. “Our team will collate concerns from parents and develop relevant messages and resources to address this shortfall in future pandemics, or even in future waves of COVID-19.”

To complete the online survey, visit form.simplesurvey.com/f/l/mamalab before May 15, 2020.

This research project was funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Partners include the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie University, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, IWK Health Centre, IWK Foundation, QEII Health Sciences Foundation, Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation, and Research Nova Scotia. The Coalition is dedicated to leading and fostering a research environment that engages our academic partnerships and responds to the current needs of Nova Scotians and our health care system, in addition to maintaining the expertise in innovative research, discovery science, population/social sciences, and health system improvement. This funding partnership provides the opportunity to catalyze COVID-19 related research initiatives and achieve collective social impact. For more information visit https://researchns.ca/covid19-health-research-coalition/.

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