Milk Mentors Supporting Manitoba Parents

13 July, 2023 | Youville Centre

A new peer-support program call Milk Mentors, launched through Youville Centre in January, 2023, is offering families additional help as they navigate the complexities of feeding their infants. The program, made possible through a Réseau Compassion Network Inspiration Grant, has connected over 30 parents with volunteer mentors who offer supports via phone, email or text, or in-person.

Robyn Brown, the Healthy Baby Outreach Worker and Peer Connector for Milk Mentors, says that reducing stigma and creating an inclusive community are the building blocks of the program. “We talk about people looking for support, not that they need support,” she confirms. “You’re no less of a good parent because you’re seeking support. You’re taking care of yourself and your baby by doing so.”

Inclusivity shows up in many ways through the Milk Mentors program, such as the language of mentorship (currently available in English, French, Tagalog and Arabic) or encouraging participation for parents who are feeding their children human milk, formula or a mix of both. “We’ve gotten so much positive feedback from parents who are happy to see inclusive language like “human milk feeding”, or who feel a sense of relief to know that no matter how they’re choosing to feed their infants, we’re here to help,” continues Brown.

Roxanne Myslicki, a Community Health Nurse from Youville who applied for the initial Inspiration Grant, is thrilled with the outcomes of the program so far. “Our biggest worry was finding mentors, and it was a wonderful surprise to receive an overabundance of interest,” she shares. “We had anticipated 15 volunteers and instead we were able to onboard 22. We thought we’d only be able to offer supports in Winnipeg, but with texting and phone calls, we’ve got some clients from more isolated areas who really struggled to find supports.”

Myslicki and Brown both heap praise on the peer mentors who they call the “jewels of the program.” For the parents receiving supports, the importance of their volunteer mentor cannot be overstated. “We get feedback from people who tell us that they don’t feel like they’re alone anymore, or that it means the world to know that no matter when or how they ask for help, someone will get back to them,” explains Brown. “There are relationships forming: feeding is only one part of this puzzle. We hear about parents who talk about feeding but then start to ask about post-partum anxiety, for example. People are really connecting on many levels and that’s so important.”

Volunteers are trained on how and when to offer support and advice, and when to recommend other resources or connect parents back to experts for mental health or other parenting questions. Often, the most important thing the volunteers can offer is being an understanding and calm presence. “Sometimes, the help of specialists is absolutely warranted,” explains Myslicki. “The majority of the time, it’s the general knowledge around feeding that’s required, and the support of someone willing to listen, ask questions and offer encouragement.”

The sense of community and care that is emerging from the Milk Mentors program is creating momentum, and community partnerships with organisations like the Mount Carmel Clinic and Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, both located in Winnipeg, are helping to spread the word. “We have been so warmly welcomed by community organisations,” concludes Brown. “We are thankful for everyone who is bringing this program to life; our partners, our volunteers and our funders.”
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