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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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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What does introducing solid food mean for breastfeeding?

Infant eating chicken and peas.I am the mother of an energetic and impish toddler, and have experienced many humbling lessons in my short parenting career. One of my biggest lessons so far is, “You figure something out, and then it changes.”

Take feeding, for example. After an initial learning curve with breastfeeding, my daughter and I got to the point where we were doing really well with it. I appreciated how convenient it became to feed her. Time passed quickly, and around six months of age, it was time to start offering solid food – a whole new chapter with new questions and new learnings.

Good things to know about starting solids:

  • There are no hard and fast rules about how to start solids. Pick a couple of times per day to offer solids, either before or after breastfeeding. It can help to include babies at the table during meal and snack times, so that they can learn by watching other people eat.
  • Focus on iron-rich foods to start, and offer these foods twice per day (for more information, see pumping iron: first foods for building strong babies).
  • When starting solids, babies will likely only eat small amounts. Offer a few small amounts of food a couple of times per day; follow their lead, and offer more if they seem interested.
  • At first, more might come back out of their mouth than goes in! It will take some practice before they figure out how to use their tongues to move food into the back of their mouth for swallowing.
  • Changes in inputs will result in changes in outputs! Poops will look (and smell) quite different, and the frequency of these outputs will also likely change.

What does starting solids mean for breastfeeding? In short, the beginning of solids is not the end of breastfeeding.

  • When starting solids, mama’s milk continues to be the main source of nutrition. Babies six to eight months of age get about 80% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • As they get older, food plays a bigger role. By nine to eleven months of age, babies typically get just under 50% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • By one year, toddlers do well with a predictable routine of three meals and two or three snacks per day. Breastfeeding can fit into the day depending on interest and family schedules.

In our case, my daughter started solids at around six months, and by nine months, she was nursing about five times per day (in the morning, after each of her two naps, at bedtime, and once in the night). At eleven months, we stopped nursing at night. Over the next few months, in preparation for my return to work, we dropped the feeds after naps, too. For the past nine months, we have maintained a nice pattern of nursing in the morning and again when I get home from work. It’s a nice way for us to connect.

Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will be unique. I have found it helpful to learn from other breastfeeding moms; I love hearing their stories. Check out a few more stories about breastfeeding on our blog:

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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Breastfeeding: a cultural approach can make all the difference

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Plains Cree woman from the Piapot reserve, appeared on Sesame Street explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird as she breastfed her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild. This was the first time breastfeeding had been shown on a major television station. At the time, this was quite radical. Mothers had been taught since the early 1900s that they should rely on experts for advice and they were recommending formula. In 1977, to push back against “experts” to promote breastfeeding was groundbreaking.

Creating cultural connection through breastfeeding
Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about about the importance of culture in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and we’re beginning to understand the role breastfeeding plays in connecting to culture. Breastfeeding creates a strong physical bond between mothers and babies that carries the cultural values and beliefs of the mother to the child, connecting the child to the past and future. Research shows that Indigenous moms who have strong cultural and spiritual resources to turn to, take up and keep up breastfeeding, at rates better than the overall population of nursing mothers. For example, Rhodes (2008) found Indigenous women most connected to traditional ways were sixteen times more likely to breastfeed.

The valuable contributions culture can bring to breastfeeding and health has been weakened by colonization. Widespread disruption of home, family and cultural connections has harmed generations of Indigenous people in Canada through Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, and other high level policies.The widespread disruption caused by colonization meant the loss of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who were crucial to the success of young mothers’ breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding & child health
Not breastfeeding has a high price.The report on child health released by Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health officer last year, showed rates of early childhood dental caries/cavities (ECC) in northern BC five times the provincial average, and children living in northern regions undergo surgery for dental issues at three times the provincial average. The risk for early childhood caries is greater in some Indigenous communites with higher rates of bottle feeding and, in these cases, a cultural approach to breastfeeding is an effective protective factor against ECC.(See: Cidro et al. Breast feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities, 2015.)

Creating healthy cultural practice
Supporting Indigenous mothers will require extra care from health care providers. Understanding the importance of culture in supporting breastfeeding can reduce the specific and systemic barriers that exist for Indigenous mothers. Many mothers are hungry for the connection between themselves, their children, and their culture. Many loved ones and community members may also want to understand and reclaim their roles in supporting breastfeeding as a cultural practice.

You could be an important bridge for reclaiming these connections. Questions to ask a breastfeeding mother could include:

  • Would you like an Elder or trusted loved one to be part of the visit?
  • Are there any cultural and traditional practices that would be helpful for you?
  • Is there anything special that would help you in breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, supported as a healthy cultural practice, promises much for improving and restoring health and well-being within Indigenous communities. Providing culturally safe services is a call to action: what can we do to promote breastfeeding in a culturally safe way for the Indigenous mothers in our care? What is it you can do?

Overall,  being aware of the underlying impacts of past negative experiences and how they’ve influenced Indigenous people’s encounters with the health care system is most important. If you can do this, you will send the message that you know about and are ready to respect the cultural bonds of breastfeeding.

We know that discussion of sensitive topics like this may cause distress. Please ensure you or the people you are working with have access to the supports you need.

Want to learn more? Check out:

 

Citations:

  • Rhodes et al. American Indian Breastfeeding Attitudes and Practices in Minnesota Maternal and Child Health Journal July 2008, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 46–54
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie started CradleBoard a site to improve curriculum. You can access this interactive web site at http://www.cradleboard.org/2000/mission.html though not all links work.
  • Cidrio, et al. feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409764/
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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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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World Breastfeeding Week 2017

Happy World Breastfeeding Week, a time celebrated annually by Canada from October 1-7. First celebrated in 1992 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), World Breastfeeding Week is now observed annually in over 120 countries by UNICEF (United Nations Childrens’ Fund), WHO (World Health Organization), and their partners including individuals, organizations, and governments.

mother holding baby

October 1-7th is world breastfeeding week

This year’s theme is “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.”

When they’re pregnant, most women state they wish to breastfeed their babies. Over 90% of babies born in B.C. receive breastmilk after delivery, but some mothers may experience difficulties maintaining or continuing to breastfeed. All members of our society can help women by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding. Here are some ways you can get involved!

Protect Breastfeeding

When breastfeeding is protected in our society, we help women feel more empowered.

  • Use community supports to help normalize breastfeeding such as healthcare providers, doulas, peer support groups, La Leche League, and pregnancy outreach programs.
  • Protect breastfeeding mothers and infants/children from discrimination and harassment.
  • The right to breastfeed is a human right in British Columbia.

Promote Breastfeeding

Good information about breastfeeding can be found on the web. Here are some ideas to help promote breastfeeding:

Support Breastfeeding

Women are more confident and empowered when they feel supported by those around them.
How can you help? If you know a breastfeeding mother you can:

  • Be a supportive husband, partner, family member or friend.
  • Do household tasks.
  • Help with childcare if there are older children.
  • Provide empathy and understanding; a listening ear can be very helpful and validating.
  • Help her find supportive assistance if she’s having difficulties. Consider healthcare providers such as lactation consultants, nurses, midwives, physicians, other health professionals, or trained peers or lay persons.  You can also connect with doulas, peer support groups and community networks such as La Leche League Canada and other community programs such as Pregnancy Outreach Programs.
  • Look at the poster from Perinatal Services BC.

 

Follow along this week on the Northern Health Matters blog as we share a new blog post related to the awareness, promotion, and celebration of breastfeeding every day!

More world breastfeeding week information:

Jeanne Hagreen

About Jeanne Hagreen

Jeanne has been a Lactation Consultant since 1993. She worked for Northern Health for 38 years, first as a nurse on the Maternal-Child Units, then 20.5 years as a Lactation Consultant. During this time, she also returned to school and earned her BSN from UNBC. Following her retirement at the end of September 2015, Jeanne has remained an active member of local, regional & provincial perinatal committees. She is also co-president of the BC Lactation Consultant Association. Jeanne was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and also lived in Campbell River, Victoria, Toronto and Vancouver. In 1975, she moved to Prince George with her husband and two small sons. In addition to her volunteer work, she is an avid knitter and reader. She enjoys living in the rural community of Salmon Valley with a small menagerie of animals, along with the wildlife that passes through her yard.

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La Leche League of Canada: Raven Thunderstorm talks about breastfeeding supports

Breastfeeding baby. Photo by April Mazzelli.The first week of October is World Breastfeeding Week in Canada! It is a great time to reflect on breastfeeding as an investment in healthy babies, mothers and communities. You can read more about World Breastfeeding Week here (and don’t forget to share your story for a chance to win a great prize!).

Yes, breastfeeding is natural; however moms need time and support to learn how. We are very fortunate to have individuals across the North who are passionate about breastfeeding advocacy and support. Raven Thunderstorm, from Terrace BC, is one such individual who wears many hats in the breastfeeding community: La Leche League Leader, birth Doula, and Childbirth Educator with the Douglas College Prenatal Program in Terrace.

What is a La Leche League Leader you may ask? Raven explains that the La Leche League of Canada provides mother-to-mother breastfeeding support through phone calls, emails or in person. Raven describes it as a safe place where any woman can get practical information about breastfeeding in a non-judgmental and supportive environment.  They host monthly groups on a variety of topics including benefits of breastfeeding, challenges, nutrition, and weaning. They also discuss some common myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding. For example, a common worry for new mothers is low milk supply, or that they won’t be able to produce enough for their baby. However, most moms are able to produce more than enough milk for their babies, as long as baby is feeding often and transferring milk effectively. It may be helpful to know that babies have tiny tummies – they start off as the size of a cherry! Also, a baby who seems fussy at the breast may be experiencing a growth spurt, and frequent feedings is actually your baby’s way of telling your body to make more milk – how amazing is that!

Raven’s interest in becoming a La Leche League Leader originated from her own experiences with breastfeeding her daughter while living in Iskut. She remembers that there were very little supports available for mothers in rural areas at the time, and in many areas that is still the case. She was fortunate to connect with a La Leche League Leader from Vancouver, and received valuable support over the phone. For women who may be encountering challenges with breastfeeding and are having difficulties accessing supports in their communities, Raven suggests picking up the phone and calling any of the La Leche League central telephone lines.

For information, resources and support visit the online breastfeeding community at La Leche League Canada Website, or find a La Leche League group  in your area.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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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 does breastfeeding mean to you?

lindsay470w

Public health nurse Lindsay with her two children.

Did you know October 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week in Canada?  This year’s theme is Breastfeeding: An Investment in Healthy Communities. It’s a great time to recognize and promote the far-reaching social, environmental, and health benefits of breastfeeding for babies, mothers, and resilient communities. I recently spoke to Lindsay Willoner, a public health nurse and mother of two, about her perspective of the joys of breastfeeding and what breastfeeding means to her and her children.

“As a working mother of two, very little has brought me more joy than being able to successfully breastfeed both my children to the age of 1 year old and beyond. Many times I felt undervalued, in all aspects of my life, as I know many mothers do, because both breastfeeding and being a mother have challenges that most mothers must endure. The sheer love and devotion between both mother and baby always amazes me. I find such comfort, warmth, and peace with still feeding my youngest who is now 17 months old. It is our time to sit, be still, slow down, and absorb the busy world around us. It is at these times that I find the most relaxation from a crazy, hectic life. Sometimes I think about how I will never get this time back with my growing baby, and to just be in love with every moment together is what’s most important to me.”

Thank you Lindsay for sharing your experiences with breastfeeding! 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!

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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