Creating a Network to Support & Promote Breastfeeding in Toronto

A conversation with Jill Mather, Toronto Public Health

Why was the Toronto Breastfeeding/Baby-Friendly Initiative Network created?

A network was identified as one strategy to support a culture that promotes breastfeeding in Toronto. It also provided an opportunity to connect with other stakeholders in Toronto with similar interests and determine possible future opportunities for collaboration.BreastfeedingSign

What is the Baby-Friendly Initiative?

The Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) is an internationally recognized designation initiated by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. BFI encourages hospitals and community health services to implement practices that promote, protect and support breastfeeding. It is inclusive of all babies regardless of how they are fed. The Toronto Breastfeeding/BFI Network welcomes all facilities that want to promote breastfeeding best practices, even if not eligible for BFI designation or not actively working towards designation.

How did you go about initiating the idea of creating a network?

Toronto Public Health (TPH) took the lead in initiating the network. As a first step, TPH reviewed some of the literature regarding forming networks and gathered information and experiences from health units and community health services across the province that had implemented or participated in a network or something similar. TPH also met with local hospital and community partners to propose the idea and gauge interest and then followed up with organizations that expressed an interest to form the planning committee for the first meeting.

TPH then reached out to HC Link for information and support with partnership and network development.

How did HC Link support this work?

HC Link’s Andrea Bodkin helped us to determine if a network was the appropriate vehicle to achieve our goal and then explained the dynamics and processes related to forming a network and how to get people to the table. She agreed to work with the planning committee and to facilitate our first three network meetings to bring interested stakeholders together and do the initial planning of the network. It was very important to have an experienced facilitator to successfully launch the network. In addition, having a neutral party act as a facilitator promoted the concept that this is a "community" initiative.


What has the network achieved? What has contributed to your success?

To date, we have had five network meetings with representation from local hospitals, midwives, Telehealth Ontario, community health centres, shelters, La Leche League, and INFACT Canada among others. With HC Link’s support, together we developed a Terms of Reference for the network which provided a clear direction and framework for its work. Active outreach efforts have raised awareness and promoted attendance. Community organizations have taken an active role in planning meetings, chairing and participating in meetings. Members have been guest speakers presenting exciting initiatives and sharing resources from their facilities. We have also had the opportunity to partner with the Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) Ontario to provide a BFI implementation workshop for network members.

"By providing a forum for sharing information about the types of support provided to breastfeeding women, the Toronto BFI Network has improved awareness of a 24-hour breastfeeding help-line in Ontario, and has helped Telehealth Ontario's Specialized Breastfeeding Service to link mothers to resources in their own communities."
- Telehealth Ontario


What challenges have you experienced?

Sustaining an active network will be an ongoing challenge for us. Given normal staff turnover and changing organizational priorities/resources, it may be difficult to sustain interest and commitment to network participation and administration.

What have you learned so far?

Two main things come to mind. First, that networks present a unique opportunity for community organizations and members to come together with a common goal. Our membership has a wealth of knowledge and resources to share which can support our goal. Second, partnership development takes time. It took a long time to build interest and engage stakeholder involvement. We are still working on it!

"Initiating a network has been a great learning experience for all involved.  With the support of HC Link, we were able to bring the idea to fruition. The network has provided a forum to share knowledge, expertise and resources related to breastfeeding and infant feeding in Toronto."  -Toronto Public Health