Fort McMurray public health centre earns ‘Baby-Friendly’ designation

November 3, 2023

FORT McMURRAY – Fort McMurray Community Health Services has been recognized by the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada (BCC) for providing a high standard of care and services to support mothers who decide to breastfeed their newborns.

The Alberta Health Services (AHS) facility is the province’s first community public health centre to receive a Baby-Friendly designation. Previously, High River General Hospital, Bonnyville Healthcare Centre, and Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton earned Baby-Friendly hospital designations.

“I am extremely proud of the dedicated staff and healthcare professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this incredible milestone,” says Brian Jean, MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche and Minister of Energy and Minerals. “It’s because of their support and expertise that mothers and their newborns are receiving this breastfeeding support to start their journey together.”
“I extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who has been a part of this work and who are making a meaningful difference in the lives of mothers and their newborns,” adds Tany Yao, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. “Thank you for making a positive impact on the lives of families in our community.”

The designation is awarded through the Baby-Friendly Initiative, a worldwide strategy designed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Originally developed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the initiative is implemented in Canada by the BCC.

“This is an exciting accomplishment and is a testament to the desire of our AHS nurses, midwives, physicians and staff to provide quality breastfeeding care to mothers and their babies in Wood Buffalo,” says Nicole Dechaine-Ouellette, Director of Public Health in AHS North Zone. 

In February 2023, AHS launched a provincial breastfeeding policy for health care providers who care for families across the continuum of care, who are considering breastfeeding, or have decided to breastfeed. The policy promotes, protects, and supports breastfeeding in Alberta using a patient and family-centred care approach. It also supports health care providers in implementing standardized, evidence-informed practices to enhance parents’ confidence and self-efficacy to meet their breastfeeding goals. 

Breastfeeding benefits the health of infants and mothers. Breast milk provides babies with vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and development. It also has proteins, fats and other substances needed for growth.

“Our team has worked extremely hard over the last several years towards earning this designation. This is a recognition of our staff using best evidence-based care and standards to support mothers and their newborns throughout their breastfeeding journey,” says Heidi Gould, Manager, Fort McMurray Public Health.

To earn Baby-Friendly designation, Fort McMurray Community Health Services had to achieve several standards and criteria, which were reviewed by Baby-Friendly Initiative assessors.

Processes, practices, breastfeeding data, staff competencies and client feedback were all reviewed by assessors. Staff also completed extensive breastfeeding education and training to enhance their breastfeeding support.

Fort McMurray Public Health has been working towards the designation since 2012. Wildfires in 2016, floods in 2020, as well as COVID-19, delayed some of their designation progress.  

“Our whole team was so committed to working together to achieve this designation,” says Kathi-Lee Volk, a Fort McMurray public health nurse, who has supported their designation work for several years. 

“Whether you’re a first-time parent or not, breastfeeding can be an overwhelming experience and sometimes there may be issues, questions or concerns. Our team is there to support them. It’s important they know they’re not in it alone and we have free, local AHS services and resources available to them.”  

Christina Oxamitny is grateful for breastfeeding support from AHS. The local resident received latching and feeding support prior to and after the birth of her first child in 2017 and, more recently, her fourth child earlier this year. 

“The nurses are absolutely wonderful and amazing. Whether it’s your first or fourth birth, they’re very supportive, knowledgeable and welcoming. They really care about helping you and making sure your baby gets fed,” says Oxamitny.

Public Health offers free breastfeeding services in the Wood Buffalo region, including in-person and virtual prenatal education classes, a breastfeeding clinic and a community Pregnancy Health Information Fair twice a year. Public Health also supports expectant mothers referred through community primary care providers. Staff continue to work with BFI Wood Buffalo, host an annual Breastfeeding Challenge at MacDonald Island Park, and display breastfeeding education signage at locations in the community to raise awareness about the health benefits of breastfeeding.  

Fort McMurray Community Health Services recently upgraded its breastfeeding clinic, thanks to a $17,000 donation from the Northern Lights Health Foundation. 

Residents can access or learn more about breastfeeding services and supports by contacting Fort McMurray Community Health Services at 780-791-6247, or by visiting the Prenatal AHS website

Healthcare professionals can learn more, visit For more information for parents and caregivers, visit

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Our mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans. Our current focus is on reducing emergency department wait-times, improving EMS response times, increasing access to surgeries, and improving patient flow.