Healthy Living in the North

Sustaining breastfeeding together: what mothers have to say

This week on the Northern Health Matters blog we have been celebrating Breastfeeding Week in Canada, with the theme: Sustaining Breastfeeding Together. I appreciate this theme because it speaks to the fact that we all have a role to play in supporting breastfeeding, both in the newborns days, and in the months and years to follow. Earlier this week on the blog, colleagues shared posts that spanned the breastfeeding journey, from early skin-to-skin contact to breastfeeding toddlers. Today, I want to share breastfeeding stories from mothers throughout northern BC.

Last year, Northern Health encouraged people to share their breastfeeding stories, and dozens of mothers responded. Of course, each story is different, but there are various commonalities. Mothers shared their thoughts on:

  • What they’ve enjoyed about breastfeeding
  • How they learned to breastfeed and how they overcame challenges
  • What hints and tips they found helpful
  • How they benefitted from support

Given this year’s theme of “sustaining breastfeeding together,” I thought I would share what these women had to say on the topic of support. Mothers shared that support comes from many different people, and in many different forms. It can start in our own homes, with partners and key support people:

  • “My husband was so supportive: ‘Of course you must breastfeed.’”
  • “My partner has been extremely supportive and accommodating. Whether it’s been bringing me dinner on the couch, having something defensive and educational to say for one of our public breastfeeds, or rubbing my back…” -Christine

Health professionals and community partners are also key, and many women spoke about the supports they received from midwives, nurses, lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors, and others:

  • “I love that maternity nurses are there for you to help when needed, even after you have left the hospital.”
  • “My midwife taught me to breastfeed lying down so that I could rest.”

While families, friends, and health care teams are important support people, many women strongly emphasized the importance of connecting and learning with other breastfeeding mothers:

  • “I had never seen a mother breastfeeding a baby up close before I became pregnant! So before I had my first baby, I consciously spent time around breastfeeding mothers, went to breastfeeding support groups.”  -Amy
  • “We have found a community of other breastfeeding mothers – a community which supports us, as we support it.” -Haylee
  • “I am a passionate advocate of breastfeeding education support, and I decided to start a local group of La Leche League Canada … to offer peer support to other breastfeeding mothers.” -Kelsey
  • “I have joined some Facebook groups for Pumping Moms and have given and received so many helpful tips along the way. Pumping moms stick together for sure!!” -Jody

Finally, mothers reminded us that it’s not just about receiving support in the early days. Our communities can do a lot to help sustain breastfeeding for months and years:

  • “Having the support of my husband and family, as well as co-workers and a supportive work environment, created the opportunity for me to continue our breastfeeding journey.” -Chelsea, about continuing to breastfeed as she returned to work
  • “I have two children and they were born in India. I breastfed them both more than one year. That is the cultural practice.”
  • “I did not hesitate to breastfeed in public. On the contrary, I was delighted that the majority of the community was very supportive.” -Tanya

All of these stories help to emphasize that support for breastfeeding mothers can come in many forms. What steps can you take to help to normalize and support breastfeeding in your community? Consider the following resources to learn more:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace “for a year.” More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.’s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.

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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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Tales from the Man Cave: Stress

Cloudy skies

Stress can feel like there are storm clouds overhead.

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. It can motivate us to get things done, but it can also overwhelm us if we don’t know how to manage it. It is said that about 20% of the population will suffer from serious stress issues at some point in their lives. Pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. Chronic stress can lead to disease and therefore it’s important to learn to manage our stress in healthy ways.

Stress can lead to a number of physical problems and in the long term even damage blood vessels, contributing to heart disease, high blood pressure and various other ailments.

Stress can also really affect your thinking and feelings. We have likely all had stressful thoughts and feelings at various times during our lives, but if they persist, they can lead to something more serious like depression and anxiety, which will need professional help.

Below are some examples of thoughts and feelings that might be an indication that stress in your life is becoming unmanageable and that you might need help:

  • You may have persistent thoughts about things going wrong and can even have panic attacks. You may believe you have screwed things up in your life or feel like a failure. You might feel full of doom and gloom about your life and find yourself waiting for the worst to happen.
  • You may often feel unwell and tense.
  • You might feel as if you have no energy for anything. You slow down.
  • You might be more irritable and you may be quick to lose your temper.
  • You’re not able to concentrate like you used to.
  • You might not sleep well or you can’t “switch off”.
  • You may also feel worthless or hopeless. You cry a lot.
  • You find yourself drinking too much or using other substances to cope.
  • You might avoid certain places in case something bad happens. You escape from places when you feel tense. You retreat from life and try to protect yourself against the world.

These things can come on either slowly over time or suddenly after a major life crisis. It can be like a vicious downward cycle that feeds on you – there is a close link between stress, anxiety, panic, depression, poor sleep, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are very commonly found together.

Like many things in life, these feelings and conditions can be either mild, moderate or severe. If you feel it is all too much, you need help and you need to talk to someone about it.

Did you know? Although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide.What can be done?

There are many things in general that can be done to defeat or manage stress symptoms.

  • Talking to someone is a great way to help yourself! There is no shame in being vulnerable as this can also help others to reach out to you.
  • Exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the effects of stress and has the spin off that it can make you feel healthier and feel good with the release of all those “feel good” chemicals.
  • Write down a list of stressors in your life. Often the very act of writing down the stressful things can give you a more realistic view and you might see ways to reduce your stress that you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol as both can worsen stress and anxiety. Caffeine can increase jitteriness and anxious feelings and alcohol can make you feel depressed. In the long term, alcohol can make you anxious and even lead to panic attacks.
  • Healthy eating and good nutrition has also been shown to be helpful in combating stress, giving the body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight stress effects.
  • Take a “one thing at a time” approach to help you get through the tasks of the day and to stop you from running everything together and going over things again and again.
  • Focus on the positive and try to find at least 5 things each day to be thankful for. Gratitude works in changing the conversation from negative and self-deprecating to positive and grateful.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Maybe it’s time to join a group and change up your life and learn some new things. Research shows that meditation is very useful in helping people cope with stress. People can learn that they are ‘not’ their thoughts and that thinking and self are different. This can help combat negative thoughts.
  • Avoid isolating yourself and think about doing things for other people. Helping others helps us to feel better about ourselves. Join a group of some kind to give you an interest that is different from family and work.
  • Go to a counsellor. There are many well-researched thought and behaviour therapies that can help people re-imagine their lives for the better.
  • Talk to your doctor about your stress if you are having trouble coping. There are ways that your doctor can help with anxiety and depression.

Some people can become so stressed that they may even consider suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death you need to speak to your doctor and counsellor immediately. I know what you’re thinking: “But I’m a man, Jim, I shouldn’t ask for help.” I’m here to tell you that you can ask for help and that it makes you an even stronger man for doing so. You can call a crisis line and talk to someone there confidentially or seek emergency help by calling 911.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Combating the fear, shock and stigma around HIV/AIDS

Be a warrior against HIV

Playing cards developed by the STOP HIV/AIDS program for the hiv101.ca campaign.

I first learned about AIDS when I worked as a newspaper reporter in Vancouver in the mid-1980s. AIDS Vancouver, one of the first AIDS support organizations in Canada, was in its infancy, and little was known about this mystery disease other than it only seemed to affect gay men who were dying of a strange form of pneumonia in various North American cities.

When it became known that AIDS was actually a global epidemic that also affected heterosexual men and women, people everywhere reacted with fear, shock and stigma.

Fast forward to October 2011, when I was hired by Northern Health to work as a communications officer on the provincially-funded STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Things haven’t changed much since the 1980s. Mention HIV/AIDS now and many people still react with fear, shock and stigma — mainly because they’re woefully uneducated on all things related to HIV/AIDS.

What has changed is that HIV is now considered a manageable chronic disease — it’s no longer an automatic death sentence. That’s where Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project comes in. The project has been operating since 2010 and on May 29, 2012, we launched the education/awareness component of the project. As communications lead, I’ve had the opportunity to work with talented consultants, dedicated community partners and Northern Health staff on this education/awareness campaign. We’re giving northerners the facts about HIV. We’re telling them that HIV affects everyone: all genders, all ages, all races. We’re encouraging people to take an HIV test and, if necessary, seek treatment to control the disease which will allow them to lead longer, healthier lives.

Our aggressive campaign, running in communities across northern B.C., features newspaper, radio, TV and billboard ads; a new website, hiv101.ca; and catchy drink coasters, posters and other promo items all encouraging people to take an HIV test. We also created the very powerful video posted below.

It’s been a real team effort — and a very emotional one. It’s been heartbreaking to hear people living with HIV describe how they were diagnosed with the virus and, in some cases, shunned by their families and friends.

On the flip side, it’s been truly inspiring to work with people who’ve bravely allowed their photos and words to be used in our very public campaign. Their courage has enabled us to begin breaking down barriers about HIV in the north, and getting people talking about how to combat its spread. As the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network points out, “Reducing the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS is key to both stopping the spread of the epidemic and improving the quality of life of people living with the disease.”

I’m not sure how many people we’ll actually reach with our STOP HIV/AIDS campaign. Some people say that our year-long education/awareness campaign will reach a saturation point, with our HIV/AIDS messages eventually ignored. I respond that behaviour change can take years to occur. The fact that we’re still fighting stigma about HIV more than 25 years after AIDS first appeared tells me that we still have much work to do. But I’m optimistic that if we and others persist with our education efforts that, perhaps one day, the stigma around HIV can be eliminated — along with the disease itself. For more information, visit hiv101.ca.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George.
(Joanne no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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