Helping Moms Help Themselves

While recently searching for innovative community nutrition programs, I came across the article Community Nutrition Outreach Programs Help Babies Have a Healthy Start by Davorka Monti. In this article she outlines a program currently operating in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada called Healthy Start for Mom & Me. This outreach program is designed to reach women living in some sort of at-risk situation that did were not receiving prenatal care during the pregnancy. women reached in this program are women who were not being reached by other services and include women who may live in poverty, isolation, violence, or use alcohol or drugs. One of the main reasons that this program appears to be effective is that it reaches out to the women, rather than relying on the women to reach out to the organization: Rather than the participants having to come to a certain office to receive services, the organization brings the Healthy Start for Mom & Me program to the moms in their homes. Each team that delivers the program is comprised of a nurse and a dietitian, as well as additional health care providers on some of the larger teams. While the dietitian focuses on providing the mothers with sound nutritional advice, one of the main roles of the nurse during prenatal care is to build trust. Many of these mothers would fall into the category of mothers that are afraid to seek medical advice out of fear of being judged; however, the mothers involved in this program seem comfortable to approach their nurse with questions both during the prenatal care and after the baby is born.

The study that this article was written on was qualitative in nature, and therefore did not provide actual numbers to back up the effectiveness of this program. However, by searching further on the the Healthy Start for Mom & Me website ( I was able to find that according to the program’s annual report for 2009/2010, the organization is serving approximately 1300 women and their families every year. The organization is funded through many sources, but mainly the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) – Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program and Healthy Child Manitoba – Healthy Baby. The organization operates on a budget of just under $900,000 per year.

I believe this program is particularly innovative in their methods they use to reach the mothers they serve. At all of their meetings they strive to provide a educational, yet enjoyable atmosphere that will help the mothers feel comfortable to continue in their program. They also believe it is important to empower the mothers to be independent. The organization accomplishes this by providing such programs as their “meal bag.” With the meal bag, the mothers have the opportunity to purchase a bag of food that will serve a family of four to six for $1.50. By requiring the mothers to purchase the food, rather than just handing it out, it makes the mothers feel like they earned the food to feed their family and helps them maintain a sense of pride.

As programs like this continue to spread, it will be interesting to see how the health of mothers and their babies improve as their access to quality information improves. It is important for helping organizations to work on meeting their service recipients where they are at in life, instead of forcing the recipients to make improvements before having access to help.

So with that, I would like to leave you with a few pieces of advice that the team at Healthy Start for Mom & Me compiled and I believe will be beneficial for workers in a community outreach program to remember:

Things that isolate

  • Seeing yourself as a professional first
  • Noticing differences in your life experiences
  • Assuming people don’t have knowledge
  • Giving people what you think they need
  • Overheads, PowerPoint, pamphlets
  • Judgment and “zero tolerance”

Things that connect

  • Seeing yourself as woman and a person
  • Noticing similarities in your life experiences
  • Giving people a chance to share
  • Giving people a chance to share their knowledge
  • Demos, videos
  • Understanding and harm reduction

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