Melanie Flett knows first-hand what it’s like to want to breastfeed a baby, but to not have the support that makes it easier.
“I was surrounded by family who didn’t know much about it,” the 22-year-old mother from Red Earth Cree Nation says as she looks back on her experience nursing her son. “But I was determined to exclusively breastfeed him.”
That’s why Flett is taking training to become a peer support for other nursing moms on Saskatchewan’s First Nations.
“The lack of support I had being a new mom…it was overwhelming. Support is very important. I would love to be there and support other moms.”
Thanks to funding from the First Nations Inuit Health Branch, Flett is participating in one of four peer support trainings offered across the province. Around 50 moms will be taking the training between Prince Albert, Onion Lake, Okanese, and Treaty 6.
Melanie Flett (right) is training to become a peer support for other breastfeeding moms. Jana Stockham, lactation consultant with Cindy & Jana and one of the facilitators of the Prince Albert conference, is one of the facilitators providing the training.
Kelsey Ring is a registered dietician with the Prince Albert Grand Council, and one of the facilitators of the training.
“During university and my first year of work, I realized that I had a passion for infant nutrition and the special bond that breastfeeding creates between mom and babe.”
According to Statistics Canada, 89 per cent of Canadian mothers in 2011-2012 initiated breastfeeding soon after their child’s birth. Six months later – the length of time the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding – 26 per cent were still breastfeeding. The WHO recommends continuing to breastfeed while foods are introduced up to 2 years and beyond. In addition to many health benefits breastfeeding provides mom and her baby, which adapt to a child’s needs as they grow or get sick, it also meets many emotional needs of a child.
Some barriers breastfeeding moms can face include lack of knowledge, social norms (some communities see bottle feeding as the norm), poor family or social support (spousal support is key to breastfeeding success), embarrassment (such as being shamed for nursing in public), or lacking access to support – exactly what this training hopes to combat.
In addition to Ring, the other facilitators are lactation consultants from Saskatoon and Prince Albert, as well as public health nurses, including retired RN Georgina Quinney. She started a very successful breastfeeding peer support program in Shoal Lake and ran it for 15 years. She is the inspiration for expanding training to multiple First Nations, says Ring.
“I facilitated a training session with Georgina about two years ago and saw what a difference it was making in Shoal Lake and surrounding communities,” notes Ring. “When an opportunity for funding came up, we submitted a proposal to host the training (which has never been done on this scale here before).”
The training follows the American WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Breastfeeding Peer Support Training program quite closely – with adaptations for First Nations women living in Saskatchewan.
The goal of the conference is to build confidence and empower First Nations moms to support and promote breastfeeding within their communities.
“All of these moms have the knowledge through their own breastfeeding experiences. We just want them to feel comfortable and confident talking to other moms about it,” explains Ring. “We also realize that the support provided by peers is unique and, in combination with support from their health care providers, plays a key role in breastfeeding success.”
Flett also encourages moms to empower themselves before their baby is born.
“Attend prenatal classes. Read the books or pamphlets about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding just so you gain some understanding. Because being a new mom can be overwhelming. Reach out for help when needed.”
Note: I originally wrote this article for Eagle Feather News.