Traditional and cultural approaches to childrearing: preventing early childhood caries in Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba


INTRODUCTION: Infant health and development is linked to a wide range of interventions including maternal nutrition and infant feeding. Early childhood caries (ECC) is a chronic condition that affects large proportions of Aboriginal children worldwide. The health of a child's mouth is linked to their overall health and wellbeing and can have a significant impact in their day-to-day experiences of eating, playing, and sleeping. The rates of ECC have increased dramatically and communities, parents, and governments are increasingly burdened with the social, economic, and personal costs associated with treatment. There is a close association between ECC and unhealthy infant feeding practices and poor oral health care for infants. This research looked at traditional and culturally based approaches to healthy infant feeding and oral health care for infants in one remote First Nations community in northern Manitoba, Canada. METHODS: Research was already under way in the community in a longer term intervention-based project called the Baby Teeth Talk Study (BTT). In discussions on the interim findings of the study, participants discussed traditional cultural approaches practised in the community for healthy infant feeding and oral health. Using a participatory research approach, the authors engaged in a partnership with the community partner who assisted with the development of research questions as well as identifying research participants. Grandmothers in the community were recruited to participate in a total of 20 interviews and four focus groups. RESULTS: This article explores three key findings pertaining specifically to culturally based childrearing practices and infant oral health. Respondents discussed the importance of feeding infants country food (such as fish, moose and rabbit) at a young age for the overall health of the infant. Related to this was the use of traditional medicine to address oral health issues such as teething and thrush with salves made from tree bark rubbed on the gums of the infant. The role of swaddling and other thermal regulation techniques was identified as directly linked to oral health, particularly the development of healthy deciduous teeth. CONCLUSIONS: Local health knowledge keepers should be a part of the discussion around health programs and public health promotion. Opportunities to share the traditions of infant feeding is an essential component in restoring skills and pride and is a mechanism for building family and community relationships as well as intergenerational support.