Healthy Living in the North

Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces: Shifting attitudes about breastfeeding

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal is pictured. It features a blue and white graphic of a mother and child breastfeeding and includes the text: "We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."

It’s a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, and local businesses can support that right by ordering this decal.

Did you know that in BC there are laws that protect women’s right to breastfeed in public? To raise awareness of this right, Northern Health has made available a window decal that states: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere.” Many businesses and organizations have posted the decal on their doors and windows. They can be ordered on the Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces webpage.

The impact of the decal

A decal is a small thing, but it can support important conversations. I was curious to know what impact the decal had on the clients and staff of participating businesses and organizations.

To learn more, we’d have to ask! In March 2019, I had the pleasure of supporting three Health Promotions students from the University of Northern British Columbia to do just that. Sonja Bork, Fatemeh Mohammadnejad, and Molly Brawdy interviewed staff from 10 Northern BC businesses and organizations that display the decal. Overall, they learned that the decal has been well received. They described positive feedback from staff and regular visits from breastfeeding mothers. This is great!

In this project, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly also learned a lot. At the end of our time together, they each shared their thoughts with me. From their comments, it is clear that this project will have a lasting impact on how they view promoting breastfeeding.

Learning about biases

Molly found that this project was a chance for her to become aware of her own views on breastfeeding:

“Before, I had not considered my own attitudes towards breastfeeding in public. Through this project, I became aware that I had internalized the idea that mothers should breastfeed in private and cover up when doing so in social settings. While I was supportive of breastfeeding in general, I had not embraced the “any time, anywhere” mindset.”

Legal rights and public support

Fatemeh, an international student, noted tensions between what is legally supported in Canada and public views of breastfeeding:

“Before coming to Canada, I had not considered breastfeeding in public places, as this is not a right in my country (Iran). Through this project, I have learned that in Canada breastfeeding is not a legal problem, as there are laws that protect this right. However, there is still a lack of empathy, respect, and understanding in some organizations and in society in general. There exists some level of rejection of mothers who breastfeed in public spaces.”

Raising awareness

Because some people may not be aware of women’s right to breastfeed, Fatemeh saw value in the breastfeeding decals:

“This initiative is an opportunity to promote the right of mothers to breastfeed in any space, without feeling uncomfortable and stressed. By displaying a decal, organizations can help to raise awareness and educate clients about the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and infants.”

Supporting change

Sonja felt that the decal is a useful health promotion initiative and that the students’ role in this project was itself an important catalyst for change:

“I have found this project to be both useful for our own learning and for Northern Health. Apart from our tasks in this project, we also convey the idea of breastfeeding-friendly spaces to our peers, friends, and families, thereby … serving as mediators in this promotional process.”

Shifting attitudes

Finally, through this project, Molly described a major shift in her own attitude about breastfeeding:

“As I heard participants’ views and thought about the initiative in general, my ideas of what it means to support and promote breastfeeding shifted. Now, when I see a woman breastfeeding in public (whether covered or not) I will not see it as awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, I see an example of a woman confidently engaging in a normal behaviour for the benefit of both herself and her child.”

The reflections of these three thoughtful students show the value of supporting conversations about breastfeeding. Thank you, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly, for your great work, and good luck in your future health promotion activities!

Do you want a breastfeeding decal for your business or organization? Submit your request.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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NH staff member defends PhD thesis on First Nations identity, wins award

Jessie on convocation day, wearing the robes of a Ph.D. and a traditional cedar hat, and holding her degree.

Jessie on convocation day, wearing the robes of a Ph.D. and a traditional cedar hat.

In December 2018, we featured a story on Prince George resident and Northern Health staff member Jessie King presenting her Ph.D. thesis at an international conference in Ontario. Jessie has now successfully defended that thesis, gaining her doctorate in Health Sciences from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

“When my supervisor told me my thesis defense was successful, I just started crying and shaking because it’s been eight years,” says Jessie. “It was such a personal process.”

Jessie was also awarded the Pounamu Taonga Award, which recognizes an Aboriginal student who is graduating from UNBC for their academic achievements, university service, and community involvement.

Jessie, who works in Northern Health’s Indigenous Health department as the Lead, Research and Community Engagement, titled her thesis “Niit nüüyu gwa’a: Decolonizing and Deconstructing First Nations Identity.”

The first part of the title is Sm’algyax (a dialect of the Tsimsham language) for “This is who I am.” She chose this title to acknowledge the intensive 10-year exploration of her identity and to honour her maternal ties to Gitxaala and the Tsimshian Nation.

Some of the questions that her thesis examined include:

  • Does how you disclose your identity change based on different situations and your perceived level of safety?
  • What are the implications of status on your identity?

“I had such a fantastic supervisory committee,” says Jessie, who hopes to publish her dissertation.

Her next adventure will include post-doctoral activities and teaching a course on research methods and design for the First Nations Studies department of UNBC.

“It will be nice to get my foot back in the teaching door,” she says.

For now, she’s enjoying plenty of well-deserved quality time with her family.

Congratulations to Jessie on her many achievements!

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Why did you become a researcher? Learn about Chelsea Pelletier’s desire to increase physical activity for all Northerners

Chelsea presenting her work on the 2018 Physical Activity Summit at a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research event.

Chelsea presenting her work on the 2018 Physical Activity Summit at a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research event.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To appease my curiosity, I approached Chelsea Pelletier, Assistant Professor in the School of Health Sciences and an avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“During my undergraduate studies in Kinesiology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, I was unsure what I wanted to do after graduation,” says Chelsea. “In my fourth year, I did an honours project that involved a research component. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and learning about research. My mentor encouraged me to pursue additional education and a career in research. It’s led me to where I am today.”

After graduation, Chelsea moved to Ontario where she furthered her education with McMaster University’s Master’s and Doctoral (PhD) programs in Kinesiology.

“I was interested in exercise and physical activity to manage or prevent chronic disease. My Master’s and PhD programs were an opportunity to connect with people in those fields and learn more.

“I did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. They help people to overcome the challenges of injury, illness, or age-related health conditions to live active, healthy lives. My supervisor ran a program for chronic disease and exercise; I learned a lot about how to work with people and community members. It inspired me to continue on this path for my research.”

In 2015, Chelsea took her talents west to Prince George to begin her career as a professor and researcher.

“Since I started at UNBC, I’ve been able to grow my research in areas that matter to communities. I spend a lot of time not only talking to community members, but listening to them. I try to let the community drive the research rather than my own interests.”

Chelsea and her two small dogs sit on a log on a sunny day.

Relaxing after a walk with dogs Blossom (L) and Cohen (R) in Salmon Valley.

Chelsea’s research mainly focuses on factors that shape physical activity for communities, understanding how to work with partners, and adding physical activity to people’s lives.

“Physical activity is an important part of being healthy. It decreases stress, improves self-esteem, gives you energy, and makes you stronger. It helps prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and strokes. As we age, it becomes even more important to live an active life.”

She’s also working on a few special projects including a cardiac rehab study in Terrace, and a study with the BC Wildfire Service to learn about the impacts wildfires have on firefighters and command-centre staff.

As Chelsea’s career progresses, she continues to work with community members and partner organizations to focus on items that matter to them. All of these have an end goal of improving physical activity in the North and creating healthier communities.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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