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Meet the Researcher

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Dr. Shela Hirani, University of Regina

Can you describe your area of research and how it is helping address a health-related issue in Saskatchewan?

My program of research “Breastfeeding Advocacy Research: Program, Policies, and Practices” (BARPPP) aims to strengthen breastfeeding related programs, policies and practices that can improve health of the breastfeeding mothers and young children. My research program relates to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of improving the well-being and reducing the mortality rates among young children. The key goal of BARPPP is to contribute to improving breastfeeding rates in Canada, especially through breastfeeding advocacy-related research with the vulnerable group of mothers in Canada, including mothers who are refugee, immigrant, Indigenous, homeless, displaced after natural disaster, and/or negatively affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Another goal of my research program is to facilitate implementation of Baby-Friendly Initiatives (BFI) in health care facilities of Saskatchewan and Canada. Implementation of BFI in all health care facilities of Canada is essential to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and improve well-being of young children. To date, only 37 health centers/health authorities in Canada are reported to have baby-friendly status. Saskatchewan has only one health care facility with baby-friendly status. In Canada and in Saskatchewan, many mothers lack breastfeeding supports that are affordable, accessible, need-based and culturally/gender sensitive. Moreover, decline in breastfeeding rates are reported among Canadian mothers, especially among vulnerable group of mothers who are refugee, immigrant, Indigenous, homeless, displaced or negatively affected by COVID-19 pandemic. I anticipate that my research program (BARPPP) will fill knowledge gaps, recommend best practices, and identify need of need-based programs/policies to promote, protect and support breastfeeding practices of mothers in Saskatchewan and all over in Canada.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

The most rewarding aspect of my work is involving patient as a partner in my research and working in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team in diverse care settings.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Breastfeeding is a sensitive topic. It is often considered as mothers’ private matter, and gender-based role and responsibilities of women. As promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding requires involvement of a range of stakeholders (mothers, their family members, community members, health care professionals, policy makers, etc.), researchers undertaking breastfeeding research have to demonstrate compassion, cultural sensitivity, patience, perseverance and passion to deal with the challenges and advocate for breastfeeding related program, policies and practices.

How did you first become interested in this area of research? What inspires you to do the work that you do?

I consider research as one of the key avenues to explore root causes of the variety of health/social problems, and find better solutions that are need-based, context specific, and innovative. Being a pediatric nursing professional and Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I realized that decline in breastfeeding is contributing to the rising morbidity and mortality among young children. My passion to save lives, promote health/well-being, and foster brain development of young children during early years of their lives facilitated me to strive for breastfeeding advocacy in diverse care settings. Through my research work I advocate for the rights and needs of breastfeeding mothers in diverse care settings, including health care settings, community-based centers, mothers’ workplace settings, post-disaster settings, daycare centers, schools, and public places.

Where is your research headed in the next five years?

I along with my interdisciplinary research team and collaborator intend to continue to undertake patient-oriented hospital and community-based research in Saskatchewan and all over in Canada using innovative methodological approach. My five-year plan is to further expand my program of research, form a national team of researchers, undertake Pan-Canadian study with the aim to fill the knowledge gaps and improve breastfeeding practices of the marginalized and vulnerable group of breastfeeding mothers in Saskatchewan and Canada.

Related Links:

Health and Well-being of Refugee Mothers during COVID-19: This resource is developed for the refugee mothers in Saskatchewan, Canada to promote their health and well-being during COVID-19. This resource shares strategies to promote self-care among refugee mothers. This resource is available both in English and Arabic. Below are the links:

E-Resource Link: English version:; Arabic version:

Breastfeeding during COVID-19: An Information Guide: Breastmilk is essential for the growth and development of young children. Considering its benefits, breastfeeding is recommended at all times for young children, especially during crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This animated video on "Breastfeeding during COVID-19" provides need-based information to breastfeeding mothers who may lack breastfeeding support and access to information during the current state of emergency and self-isolation. It will also clarify misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding during COVID-19 and raise public awareness on safe infant feeding practices during this pandemic.

Publication link:

Media links:

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