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Northern Lights Health Foudnation: Baby Friendly in Wood Buffalo

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A mom and baby-focused health initiative is making great strides in Wood Buffalo. The Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) is connecting the community in promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding as a means of enhancing safe motherhood, child survival and primary health.

In 2012, the BFI Wood Buffalo was launched in Wood Buffalo to connect families with community infant feeding resources, to support local health care providers in seeking breastfeeding education and to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding.

According to Stephanie Harries, Area Manager of Fort McMurray Public Health, breastfeeding is a means of providing children with optimal health from an early age.

“Increasing the number of babies who are breastfed means healthier babies, healthier moms and a healthier community,” she says.

Global health organizations, governmental agencies and health professional associations recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for two years.

Breastfeeding offers protection against numerous childhood illnesses, can help prevent the development of many diseases in adulthood and helps build a bond between mom and baby.

“BFI Wood Buffalo’s primary goal is to increase the rates of initiation, duration and exclusive breastfeeding in our community,” says Harries. “To do this, we encourage breastfeeding as the normal method of infant feeding.”

BFI is a globally recognized campaign of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, which has been adapted for use in Canada by the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. BFI Wood Buffalo is aiming to make Fort McMurray the first Baby-Friendly community in Alberta, as recognized by the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada and the WHO.

“We know worldwide that BFI represents a standard for infant feeding and it actually represents a minimum standard. The reality is that most facilities in Canada aren’t even meeting minimum standard. We’re working towards making this standard a focus in not only Wood Buffalo, but in Alberta as a whole,” says Jennifer Splaine, Supervisor of Fort McMurray Public Health and Chair of the Alberta Breastfeeding Committee.

“Meeting this minimum standard promotes informed decision making around maternal child care,” she says. “It takes into consideration both the value of breastfeeding and the importance of knowing the risks associated with formula feeding, but also recognizing that there will always be a need for breast milk substitutes and that we play a huge role in making sure that the families who rely on milk substitutes know how to prepare it safely and give it to their babies in a safe way.

“A lot of the Initiative looks at best practice standards as a whole, way beyond just infant feeding. There’s the skin-to-skin component, making sure the transition from hospital to home is seamless for families, making sure families know where to go for resources, for help to answer questions, knowing where to go for peer to peer support in the community. There are many components built into this Initiative,” says Splaine.

The Initiative has seen many successes, including the formation of a community based committee and the creation of a community breastfeeding clinic.

“The committee we’ve created raises awareness around the importance of breastfeeding and works to improve support available to all families in the community whether they’re breastfeeding or not,” says Harries. “The breastfeeding clinic is a resource for new and expectant moms, where they can access breastfeeding support directly from public health nurses.”

BFI Wood Buffalo was funded by the Northern Lights Health Foundation through community support. “We’ve seen definite gains in the community through this Initiative,” says Splaine. “This Initiative is really a need for every community. It’s just having the knowledge and the initiative to move forward with it and promote it.”

To learn more about BFI Wood Buffalo, visit

About the Northern Lights Health Foundation

Established in 1985, the Northern Lights Health Foundation engages people, inspires philanthropy and secures funds to improve health and promote wellness in Wood Buffalo. The Health Foundation connects people with opportunities to have a direct and positive impact on health care in our region.

For information on how you can support community health care, contact us:

Northern Lights
Health Foundation
7 Hospital Street,
Fort McMurray, AB T9H 1P2

Phone: (780) 791-6041
Fax: (780) 791-6241



Charitable Registration Number: BN 107395030 RR0001


Amelia Schofield is a marketing and communications professional based in Fort McMurray, AB. She’s currently the Marketing and Communications Officer with the Northern Lights Health Foundation and a regular contributor to YMM Magazine.  Amelia is also the Owner + Creator of Amelia Emily Design, a local business specializing in knitted goods.

Follow Amelia on Twitter at @AmeliaSchfld