Healthy Living in the North

Juggling the joys (and challenges) of breastfeeding my toddler

Jovie and her proud mama!

Having a mommy and daddy who work full-time is hard for a toddler. Despite a busy schedule, our two-year old daughter, Jovie, continues to enjoy breastfeeding. She always looks forward to snuggles after daycare – a time when she can have “mama num-num” (her name for breastfeeding!).

I’ve been grateful to be able to follow the recommendations from the World Health OrganizationHealth Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, and the Canadian Pediatric Society:

  • To exclusively breastfeed Jovie for the first six months of her life,
  • To introduce solid foods and other fluids around six months (her first meal with solid foods was turkey dinner at her first Christmas!), and
  • To continue breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.

Learning to mother through breastfeeding has been an important part of my journey as a first-time mom. I’m constantly amazed by the many health benefits it has for both toddlers and mommies alike. Here are some of the reasons why I’m continuing to breastfeed Jovie during her toddler years, even while juggling a busy work schedule.

The benefits for breastfed toddlers can include:

  • Enhanced emotional security and comfort, as it helps them to achieve independence at their own pace.
  • Better jaw and tooth development for improved speech and oral health.
  • Strengthened immune systems and protection from chronic diseases and acute infections (especially with all the exposure they have to germs at daycare!).

The benefits for breastfeeding moms include:

  • Improved mental wellness – it’s a great opportunity for her to practice mindfulness, connect with her toddler, and tune into her own body.
  • Lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancers – the longer she breastfeeds, the lower her risk of cancer.
  • Help adjusting to being away from home while working (when Jovie was younger, I visited her daycare during my lunch break to give her “mama num-num”!).

There’s another benefit that may not be regularly considered: it helps to normalize breastfeeding in our society, especially when done in public.

Women have the right to breastfeed their toddler anytime, anywhere.

I’m thankful my daughter’s and my journey has been generally positive, but I’ve definitely experienced a few raised eyebrows myself along the way! In our Western society, breastfeeding toddlers are less understood and much less accepted than in other parts of the world. This is why it’s so important to support mothers along their breastfeeding journey.

Evidence shows that women who receive continued support are more likely to breastfeed their children for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, many families are lacking the support they need. Wondering how you can help? Check out the Growing for Gold program that’s improving breastfeeding support for moms across the North!

As a breastfeeding mom, I know how important support has been for us. Do you know of a mother-child dyad who is breastfeeding beyond infancy? Here are a few resources to help you on your journey to strengthen your support for them:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Sustaining breastfeeding together: She can do it, you can help

breastfeeding momA cup of hot tea. A tasty meal. A much-needed foot rub. In my early postpartum days, these supportive gestures from my husband helped while I was learning how to breastfeed our daughter, Jovie.

Like most moms, I was feeling the exhaustion that accompanies a new baby. Yet, I can recall feeling empowered and well cared for by my family, friends, and health care providers. My confidence as a mother gradually increased and together, Jovie and I grew and learned through our breastfeeding journey; today, even though she is now a busy toddler, we continue to breastfeed.

We know that most women want to breastfeed their babies; nature has equipped mothers and babies with strong instincts to help them get started. Yet, it’s more common to hear that “breastfeeding is natural” rather than its potential challenges. Moms and their little ones will need time and practice to learn how to breastfeed, and support from others during this time can be so valuable.

What types of support do women benefit from?

  • Family support. For all moms, learning to breastfeed can be easier when women have the support of their family. All relatives can have a role: grandparents, parents, siblings, and extended family. Offering emotional support through active listening will be deeply appreciated by new moms. Practical support is equally important, such as doing housework or picking up groceries. I’m grateful for my family; their support truly made a difference for Jovie and me, both in the early days and over the last two years more generally.
  • Spousal support. Getting support from her significant other can help a woman to build her comfort and confidence with breastfeeding. Husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, or a same-sex couple: all mothers benefit from support. As a child, I was raised in a single parent home and learned about breastfeeding by watching my mom care for my younger siblings. Even at a young age, it was apparent to me how much my mom benefited from having support, including help with simple household tasks and a visit from a close friend.
  • Peer support. A friend, a neighbour, or any other mother who has had a positive experience with breastfeeding can be a great source of support. They can offer emotional support, encouragement, and simple tips and tricks. I found peer support online through a Facebook group of other moms; some of these gals are my dearest friends today!
  • Community-based support. Beyond their close circle of support, women may appreciate other supports in their community. Health care providers, breastfeeding groups, and advocates (such as Lactation Consultants and La Leche League leaders) are additional resources that can enhance a woman’s knowledge, skill, and confidence to breastfeed her baby. Attending groups with Jovie was one of my favourite sources of support; it’s empowering to be part of a community of breastfeeding mothers.

Seeing a mother and her baby thrive in their breastfeeding journey is rewarding. By offering support, this can enhance relationships and improve the health of mothers, babies, families, friendships, and communities. You don’t have to be a breastfeeding expert to provide support to a mom and her baby; we can all have a role in “sustaining breastfeeding together.”

Eager to learn how you can protect, promote, and support breastfeeding? Check out these resources:

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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Why skin-to-skin care is important for your baby’s well-being

Have you ever thought about having your baby skin-to-skin with you after birth and in the first few weeks after birth? Many parents have never thought about holding their baby skin-to-skin until they are pregnant and skin-to-skin is mentioned as an option right after birth. Often the reaction at that time is “Yuck. Can you at least dry the baby off first?”

Most of us don’t think about the millions and millions of bugs (flora) that are on and in our body until we are asked about skin-to-skin. However, this flora, making up our own unique ecosystems, is absolutely essential for health and well-being. So how does a baby acquire flora?

mother holding breastfeeding baby

Babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Babies come out of a relatively sterile environment so they need to be colonized by healthy bugs, rather than ones that can cause them to get sick. Most babies delivered vaginally get a healthy dose of good bugs during the delivery process, although this is just some of the flora they need. Babies born via caesarean section are less likely to get these bugs and more likely to pick up other ones from their surroundings.

Developing a healthy range of good bugs is important for all babies. One of the easiest ways for babies to get a range of healthy flora is from being skin-to-skin with a parent right after birth. If parents are not available, then other family members work almost as well, as families share many bugs in common. Spending time skin-to-skin right after birth is important but it is also important in the days and weeks after birth as babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Spending time skin-to-skin is not just about introduction to healthy bugs; here are some other benefits:

  • Skin-to-skin helps babies maintain their temperature.
  • Skin-to-skin helps maintain adequate sugar levels in their bloodstream.
  • Skin-to-skin helps develop normal breathing patterns quicker after birth.
  • Babies cry less often if they spend time skin-to-skin.
  • Babies often breastfeed better if they spend time skin-to-skin. For babies who are not breastfeeding, spending time skin-to-skin is particularly helpful because they cannot pick up a parent’s flora as easily as they are usually not right against a parent’s skin like babies who breastfeed.

We encourage you to think about spending time skin-to-skin with your baby so your baby can develop a healthy body ecosystem at the same time as you get to know your baby.

About Jane Ritchey

Jane Ritchey was previously the Interim Executive Lead for the Perinatal Program. (Jane has recently retired from Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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Family health over the holidays

In the now-classic Canadian tale of holiday mayhem, Stuart McLean’s Dave Cooks the Turkey, befuddled husband, father, and record store owner Dave realizes with alarm (on Christmas Eve) that not only has he been tasked with cooking the Christmas turkey – but that in fact this means he should have actually purchased one. While amusing to hear, Dave’s ensuing story of holiday-prep turmoil may have been a difficult lived experience. Balancing family and workplace commitments while shopping, cooking and entertaining make this time of year busy and stress may not be avoidable – but there are ways we can manage holiday pressures end enjoy the season.

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers some great, practical tips on staying grounded, calm and capable during the holidays. As they say, it’s hard to think of Peace on Earth without peace of mind!

Family wearing snowshoes

What traditions or activities will you try this season to connect with family and friends? The Lamont family (2015) enjoys some winter snowshoeing!

Plan ahead. If you’re entertaining, use the “keep it simple” strategy. Try menus you can make ahead of time or at least partially prepare and freeze. Decorate, cook, shop, or do whatever’s on your list in advance. If you’re visiting (or supporting your guests), consider a plan for getting home safely at the end of the festivities – many communities offer special holiday transportation services and/or free ride programs like Operation Red Nose. Then you can really relax and enjoy visiting friends, relatives and co-workers.

As much as possible, organize and delegate. Make a list and check it twice. Rather than one person cooking the whole family meal, invite guests to bring a dish. Kids can help with gift-wrapping, decorating, baking, or addressing or decorating cards.

Practice mindful eating and drinking. The holidays are great time for the giving and receiving of delicious nibbles and drinks. Eating “one more cookie” or partaking in “one more drink” are normal parts of holiday celebrations but be mindful of how your body is feeling. You can help maintain your regular sense of well-being by eating regular meals and snacks and engaging in enjoyable physical activity. This is a great time of year to combine indoor pleasures with outdoor fun-times like snowman-building or rambles through now-sparkling neighbourhoods!

Stay within budget. Finances are a huge source of stress for many people. Again, eliminate the unnecessary. Set a budget, and stay within it. A call, a visit or a note to tell someone how important they are to you can be as touching as and more meaningful than a gift. You can also enjoy free activities like walking or driving around to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, or making your own decorations or presents. Craigslist and swap events are great places to find inexpensive brand-new items, and excellent-condition used items.

Remember what the holiday season is about for you. Make this your priority. Whether it’s the usual holiday advertising that creates a picture that the holidays are about shiny new toys, always-happy families and gift giving, remember that this season is really about sharing, loving, and time spent with family and loved ones. Develop your own meaningful family traditions that don’t have to cost a lot of money. Also, remember not to take things too seriously. Finding fun or silly things to do, playing games or watching movies that make you laugh, playing with pets, and spending time alone or with a partner or friends are all good ways to reduce stress.

Invite others. If you have few family or friends, reach out to neighbours. Find ways to spend the holidays with other people. If you’re part of a family gathering, invite someone you know is alone to your gathering.

Connect with your community. Attend diverse cultural events with family and friends. Help out at a local food bank or another community organization.

When the weather outside is frightful… Some people get the winter blahs each year, and a much smaller number (2-3%) develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Paying attention to nutrition, exercise and sleep and being careful with alcohol are also important if you have a history of depression. If your low mood carries on into the New Year and starts to affect your daily life, you should see your family doctor.

Dave’s family did enjoy a turkey in the end, albeit one achieved through rather non-traditional means involving a hairdryer, a hotel, and a bottle of scotch. Dave somehow managed to deliver on his commitments to his family, but had he been better at delegating and sharing his tasks, he may not have spent precious time ladling gravy on top of lightbulbs that night to make the house smell like he actually cooked the bird.

This is a time of year we may all catch ourselves making big promises – and we would be well-served to remember that delivering on small ones, like simply enjoying each other’s company, has more substantial effects in the end. Enjoy your holidays, be they in company of family, friends, faith or in quiet contemplation.


This article was written by Andrea Palmer in partnership with Dr. Sandra Allison, Northern Health Chief Medical Health Officer. A version of this article first appeared in the NCLGA newsletter.

Andrea Palmer

About Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is a Communications Advisor with the Health Promotions Team at Northern Health. Born and raised in southern B.C., Andrea now embraces the North in large part for all the fun, healthy activities and opportunities uniquely accessible in our region including snowboarding, cross-country skiing, outdoor skating, wild berry picking, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing and the bracing experience of jogging in the snow!

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