It’s been over a year since Nova Scotia entered a State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, triggering subsequent orders to limit social contact. Results from a study conducted during the early-days of lock-down demonstrate how this time period exacerbated existing challenges for new parents and infant caregivers.

“Restrictions on in‐person services resulted in the cancellation of post‐partum appointments, lactation services and public health programs such as home visits and family‐drop‐in services,” says Dr. Kyly Whitfield. “We wanted to better understand how these emergency measures were impacting the lives of infants and their caregivers.”

Dr. Kyly Whitfield

Dr. Whitfield is an assistant professor of applied human nutrition and director of the Milk and Micronutrient Assessment Lab (MAMA Lab) at Mount Saint Vincent University. When the province first locked down in spring 2020, she couldn’t help but wonder how infants and their caregivers were coping. With support from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition, she launched a study to explore infant feeding experiences and concerns among caregivers early in the COVID‐19 State of Emergency in Nova Scotia.

To collect data, the research team ran an online questionnaire open to caregivers of infants under 6 months of age in Nova Scotia during April and May of 2020. A total of 335 respondents provided feedback on infant feeding changes, general COVID-19 knowledge, and perceived stress. Though minimal changes in feeding practices were reported, results show three quarters of study participants experienced moderate perceived stress.

“Access to public health nurses and certified lactation consultants are being increasingly recognized as playing an important role in improving breastfeeding outcomes,” explains Dr. Whitfield. “Many participants felt unsupported by the cancelations of in-person services, over a quarter experienced lactation challenges, and of those, 66% described difficulty accessing lactation support.”

The online questionnaire also captured the perspective of formula-feeding caregivers. After analyzing the data, the team did not find significant differences in stress levels between breastfeeding and infant formula‐feeding caregivers, simply different challenges.

“Stress among infant formula‐feeding caregivers centered more around concerns of access and infant food security,” says Dr. Whitfield. “A major finding was concern about retail stock-outs of infant formula, with caregivers worried about finding their preferred formula during those early days of stockpiling, coupled with shopping hesitancy.”

Results from the study have been published in Maternal & Child Nutrition. Dr. Whitfield and team hope their work will be used to help inform public health messaging for infant feeding in future disease outbreaks, other pro-longed emergencies, or even in future waves of COVID-19.

To learn more about the MAMA Lab and Dr. Whitfield’s research, visit https://www.mamalab.ca.


This research project was funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Partners include Nova Scotia Health, 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/.