Healthy Baby About Bringing Parents Together


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If you’ve ever been a new parent, you can probably identify with the stress of those first few months—or years—when everyone is giving you advice and it’s hard to know what to trust. For first-time parents facing profound life transitions, the introduction of a new baby can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.

That’s where the Southern Regional Health Authority’s Healthy Baby program comes in.
“One of our biggest objectives is basically to get pregnant moms and new parents connecting with other parents,” says Terry Schmidt, the program’s coordinator. “They can meet with other families and health professionals. In the big picture, we want to have healthy outcomes for babies and parents.”
Every regional health authority in Manitoba has a Healthy Baby program, although the program coordinators have some latitude in how they administer it. In the rural southeast, Schmidt says that they hold monthly meetings in eight separate communities, although in a perfect world she would like to host meetings even more frequently.
Southern Health currently holds group meetings in Niverville, Île-des-Chênes, Lorette, St. Pierre, Blumenort, Ste. Anne, Grunthal, and La Broquerie. They recently discontinued meetings in Ste. Agathe. Why? Because there haven’t been many babies born there for a while.
“How do we determine which community to go to? First of all, there have to be babies there,” Schmidt says. “And we also look at different health indicators. Is this a group that doesn’t have access to programming? Do they have a little bit more financial needs in that community? That’s not necessarily the only thing that we’re looking at, but we look at if it’s a disadvantaged area.”
She also says that Southern Health tracks which communities are experiencing birth spikes. “Then we show up, we do our thing, the babies grow up, and then we go to a different community. So we have a little bit of leeway, the flexibility to go where the births are.”
Historically, Niverville has been a hotspot for births, which is why it’s always been the biggest group in the region. However, Schmidt says that the size of Niverville’s group is about more than numbers.
“The public health nurses there do an awesome job of promoting [Healthy Baby],” she says. “And they come to the group as well. So after a mom’s had a baby and things are emotional and they’re nervous about how things are going, she knows that if she goes to group she can actually talk to the public health nurse and get reassurances. I think that is part of the success of that group.”
Although there’s a perception that Healthy Baby is a forum specifically for moms, Schmidt is quick to point out that the program has a wider target.
“To be in the group, you have to either be pregnant, or be a parent of a baby up to the age of one,” she says. “We want to include the partners, too. Dads are more than welcome to come. I mean, they’re a parent, too! Or a support person can come in along with the mom or the dad, so it’s not just specifically for women.”
Parents who attend meetings are given the opportunity to discuss a variety of topic areas. Early on, Healthy Baby was based very much on good nutrition, which remains a cornerstone of the program to this day, although many other subjects are now addressed.
“We do a lot of [talk] about successful breastfeeding and we find that mothers who attend, the research shows, more of them nurse and they nurse longer. So that’s a good outcome from the program,” Schmidt says. “We also talk a lot about attachment, which is the healthy connection between the parents and the child… After that, we talk about reproductive health, addictions, all that.”
Another key subject is understanding the role that a child can have on a parent’s mental health. Some parents struggle with postpartum depression and the baby blues. Others struggle to cope with the many adjustments they have to make in their lives and relationships.
“I always say that having a baby is like throwing a bomb into a relationship!” Schmidt says. “We try to make our groups really fun and casual, and personally I like to run a group with lots of interaction. What are their opinions? What are their thoughts? What are their experiences? I learn a lot from them, too.”
But the meetings are fundamentally about a lot more than educating parents. More importantly, Schmidt says that Healthy Baby connects parents with each other and helps them build support systems.
“The number one reason that moms report coming to group, the number one reason isn’t for information, it’s for connecting with other moms,” she concludes. “I’m just so happy to accommodate that and have moms come and connect and feel connected with each other and with the community.”

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