Healthy Living in the North

Bringing out the best: Breastfeeding, the World Health Organization and Quesnel

Mothers seated on couch breastfeeding infants.

Breastfeeding moms and babies at Quesnel Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge in October 2015.

Living in one of northern B.C.’s smaller communities, you may not expect to be able to access globally-recognized, high quality training opportunities for free, right on your own doorstep. Yet this is exactly what a very successful initiative in Quesnel has been able to do.

The Baby Friendly Advisory Committee (BFAC) worked to successfully increase rates of initiation for breastfeeding at GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel. They recently widened their focus to increasing breastfeeding duration support in the community.

Benefits of breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life are well researched, with numerous health benefits for mother and baby. The goal is to increase the number of babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life (as recommended by Health Canada). Exclusive means that they receive nothing but breast milk until they are six months old (i.e., no solid foods, no water or breast milk substitutes) unless it is medically necessary. In order to meet this goal, the Baby Friendly Advisory Committee felt it was important to engage the community to support breastfeeding mothers. So, in November 2015, they offered a three day training using the World Health Organization breastfeeding course –a required course for every maternity nurse.

Breastfeeding course

The three day course was held at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre –a child-friendly space. “The room had couches and tables and a kitchen for the participants – which included five breastfeeding moms as well as eight interested service providers,” says Bev Barr, Pregnancy Outreach Program Coordinator and BFAC co-chair, who was tasked with coordinating this initiative. “It was originally planned for April but we decided to postpone until November and commit to advertising and promotion.”

The group was determined to address potential barriers that are unique to breastfeeding moms. The final plan, in order to make the training accessible, included making the course free, choosing a location with free parking, making sure healthy lunches and refreshments were provided and – of most importance – ensuring child care arrangements for breastfeeding moms were in place. As a result, the final group included five breastfeeding moms among the attendees. “We all learned about breastfeeding while holding babies.”

“We had no idea how this would go,” says Bev, “and I was incredibly overwhelmed at how positive the response was, especially during that first day because of the high level of technical information. That day is very medically-focused, covering the physiology of breastfeeding, the nutritional composition of breast milk, and the health benefits to mother and baby. The next two days look at more practical issues and problem solving. The participants loved it all! At the end of the first day, they were talking about how much they hadn’t known and how much more they wanted to know.”

“What we have now is a well-informed and knowledgeable cohort who can support success in initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding in the community. Already we have heard three service providers say they are using the information in every visit. The course, in some ways, is bringing back networks of breastfeeding support that used to exist in many families and communities. It’s vital we have this capacity and knowledge in the community.”

Breastfeeding mother

Breastfeeding course participant Dawn Giesbrecht feeds baby Oliver.

Population health approach

It strikes me, as I reflect on my conversation with Bev, that this small, impactful project exemplifies some of the most important principles of Northern Health’s population health approach. The population health approach argues we need to get “upstream” on the river of diseases and causes of poor health in northern B.C. That is, addressing risk factors before they cause ill health is preferable to treating symptoms later on.

What are the principles shown by the BFAC project?

Do it right, not fast was obvious in the decision to wait and build readiness and interest in the audience group. Share what you have to offer and let the group do the work was evident in the willingness to offer a top-flight training opportunity and trust the group to rise to the occasion.

Understanding and addressing the specific barriers to participation that are unique to the group is also key. In this case, providing food, free parking, comfy chairs and a willingness to have babies in the room addressed a set of barriers that can exclude nursing mothers. Capitalizing on the passion and knowledge professionals can bring was also prominent in this work.

Partnership and collaboration were integral. In Quesnel, Northern Health was present in the room with professional expertise and insights and with concrete supports that addressed barriers to participation. At same time, Northern Health was sitting alongside its community members, learning with the community. Learning together is a way to build strong relationships and new connections that strengthen capacity to address issues of local importance.

Underscoring this, of course, is the passionate commitment of the working group who have dedicated years of service to supporting breastfeeding best practices in Quesnel. The BFAC is collaborative and includes representation from a number of individuals and groups. These torchbearers have lit a fire under the participants. The only request of participants was that they would commit to sharing their new knowledge and implement it in their own personal and professional circles. Many are now inspired and seeking additional training because of this opportunity.

The enthusiastic response of the participants to the training and their willingness to work with the new knowledge has given Quesnel a new and strong cadre of breastfeeding champions. The project also points the way to success. In a quiet and unassuming way, Northern Health professionals showed that partnership and population health are important parts of the good work in and by community to improve the health of northerners.


  • Do you have a breastfeeding story or experience to share? Tell us what breastfeeding means to you, your family, and your community by entering Northern Health’s World Breastfeeding Week contest before October 7!
  • This work was supported in part by an IMAGINE Community Grant. IMAGINE grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities.
  • Read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.
  • This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story in the Spring 2016 issue:

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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What are your ideas?

Room full of people

If you have ideas to help people get healthier, start sharing them! In Prince George, PechaKucha provided one way to share ideas. How does your community share ideas?

Are you happy and healthy? Do you belong to any groups in your community, go to school, or work in a place where you want to see people become healthier? Do you have family and friends who care about you and you care about them? Do you eat healthy foods, get some exercise, stay away from tobacco, and wear safety gear?

As more people in the north become healthier, we all win. What do we win, you might ask? We all win safe and healthy communities filled with healthy families and people of all ages!

How can you build a healthier community?

This is why Northern Health wants to listen to the ideas you and your community have to become healthier. This is why we fund community-based health promotion projects to make you and all of the people you see around you where you live, work, learn and play become safer, healthier and happier.

The health promotion projects that northern schools, groups and communities are doing together are amazing. Project ideas are sometimes very simple and sometimes they can be very complicated, but they all have one thing in common:

Someone had an idea to help the people around them become healthier.

We all have ideas about how things could be better, but we don’t always share them. Sharing your idea can be such a great idea!

There is a very interesting way that people of all ages from around the world are telling stories and sharing their ideas. It’s called PechaKucha and it isn’t as hard to pronounce as it looks, but you may want to jot it down because it might be a new idea to you.

Stories are a powerful way to share ideas and also learn from others ideas. People of all ages are using PechaKucha to share their ideas and stories in short, simple ways. The idea is that you tell a story by showing 20 images for 20 seconds each. Any community or group can do PechaKucha; all you need is an idea or story to share.

In Prince George, Northern Health helped fund a local group of northern storytellers to get started. You can explore their stories and lots of others at the PechaKucha site.

Here is the question again: Do you have ideas to help people become healthier?

The next question is: Do you share them? If you have ideas to help people get healthier, start sharing them! Your idea might one day help your community become safer, happier and healthier.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

-Margaret Mead

Room full of people


About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to have an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

 

Christine Glennie-Visser

About Christine Glennie-Visser

Christine is the regional coordinator for the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Network in northern B.C. Christine loves to share good healthy local food with family, friends and co-workers and is passionate about making the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone. Although she is currently limited in her physical activity choices for medical reasons, she has become creative at fitting in activity and spends many happy hours deep water running and using gentle resistance training and stretching to maintain muscle strength. Christine can often be found in her kitchen, developing or testing recipes, and conspiring with her six grandchildren to encourage their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables! (Christine no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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National Aboriginal Day: A celebration of family and culture

June 21 was National Aboriginal Day – a day for Northern Aboriginal groups to come together and celebrate their culture and achievements.

NH reps at Aboriginal Day

L-R: Julia Stephenson, Joan Greenlees and Laura Johnston were three of the NH representatives talking to people about health and wellness at the Aboriginal Day celebrations.

Fort George Park, the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, was the site of celebrations in Prince George this year, and I dropped by in the morning to visit the folks at the Northern Health booth and catch the opening remarks. It was 10:30a.m. but already the sun was hot and there was a crowd milling about the local organizations’ booths (I saw Canadian Red Cross, UNBC, and the Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, to name a few), and food and craft vendors.

I was welcomed at the Northern Health booth by Laura Johnston, a tobacco reduction coordinator from Population Health; Joan Greenlees, executive assistant for Northern Cancer Control Strategy and Aboriginal Health; and Julia Stephenson, an SFU practicum student working on her master’s degree in Public Health, who were all there to share information about NH public health and population health services, like healthy eating and quitting smoking.

“It’s good to have so many groups come together,” said Stephenson, who was happy to be helping Northern Health share health and wellness information with the public at the event. “The Aboriginal community is important and we want to celebrate everything they’re doing for our area.”

Bloodborne pathogens team

Trish Howard and Sandra Barnes were representing the NH bloodborne pathogens team, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Next to the NH booth were some representatives of the new HIV101 campaign. I met Trish Howard, the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team, and Sandra Barnes, an HIV designate nurse. They were both in attendance to raise awareness and educate people about HIV/AIDS with the goal of reducing the stigma around the disease.

“Our biggest thing is getting the message out – HIV is not a death sentence,” said Barnes. “Early diagnosis is key – so get tested. If you’re sexually active, get tested.”

Barnes shared a frightening statistic: 25% of people that have HIV don’t know they have it, and it’s believed that this 25% is responsible for up to 75% of new infections.

“You can’t stop the spread if you don’t know, but we have everything to control it.” Barnes said being at events like the Aboriginal Day celebrations is important for their initiative because when you bring people together for a common goal, it’s easier to talk about difficult things when it’s out in the public.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Louella Nome, a community health rep and band councillor for Lheidli T’enneh. I asked her about the importance of events like this celebration to her community.

“It’s great – it’s about bringing people together and unity,” Nome said. “It’s building bridges – our strength comes in numbers.” She was excited to have a lot of family members together in one place.

And that’s really what the day was all about – celebrating family and being together.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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