Shift the Conversation: Healthy Populations

Healthy Populations measures the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the population by looking at different aspects of health status and certain determinants of health.

Women Everywhere (WE) Breastfeed

Healthy populations are made up of people who are physically, socially, mentally well. Health starts before we are even born, and the early years are extremely influential on future health outcomes. Breastfeeding is an important way to build a healthy population, but without the proper supports in place, it can be challenging for many women to breastfeed.

In 2007, the Guelph Community Health Centre (CHC) started the Women Everywhere (WE) Breastfeed program, modeled after a similar initiative in Kitchener, in response to a community-identified need. With the help of a Registered Nurse, volunteers were trained to become peer-leaders to give fellow new mothers advice and support on breastfeeding.

Now, in 2013, there are 18 active volunteers who provide one on one support over the phone or in person. These volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds, including 11 language groups, multiple ages including a teenage mother, and mothers who nursed through specific challenges such as post-partum depression and other mental health issues, with twins and premature infants and as single parents.

The CHC began partnering with the Community Breast Feeding Collaborative comprised of the Public Health Unit, family health teams, La Leche League, and midwife practices to discuss how they could address some of the gaps in services and support for breastfeeding women. This group identified that there were no support services available mid-week for nursing mothers.

In response, with the support of the volunteers trained with WE Breastfeed, the Breastfeeding Café was launched in January 2013  as a place where new mothers can informally drop in weekly to share their experiences and as questions about breastfeeding. One teenage mother explained the value of peer support in noting that “the most valuable part of today’s café… was knowing I’m not alone and not judged.”

Since its inception, 76 mothers and their babies have visited the café. Many of the current volunteers had accessed the program when they themselves were experiencing difficulties breastfeeding and now they have become true peer-leaders in welcoming and supporting new moms. Although the program has two lactation consultants available on-call, for the most part the volunteers operate the space completely. The interest of new mothers in becoming peer-leaders continues to grow, and the next training is scheduled for Fall, 2013.

With many of the moms returning to the café to chat or to become volunteers, new friendships have been formed across the diverse set of women. As one mother put it, “Other moms had the same questions as me – nice to meet new moms!On October 5, 2013, Guelph will be taking part for the second time in the Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge, an event to see how many women and babies can latch on at 11:00 AM. Last year Guelph CHC proudly organized 38 women with babes latched with over 100 people coming out to support the event. This year they are hoping to increase this number further, and even partner with the maternity ward at the local hospital.

Breastfeeding is an important way to build a healthy population. By using a peer-support based model, Guelph CHC and the Community Breast Feeding Collaborative are ensuring that women are actively engaged and supported in breastfeeding to ensure a healthy population in the future.