A network of trained peer support is an essential part of high quality integrated breastfeeding services.
Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) outlines three components that good local breastfeeding services must include, in order to be awarded Baby Friendly accredited status.
Basic, or Routine Care
All health workers who work with new families (health visitors and any allied healthcare assistants in the community services) have been trained to BFI standard (approximately 18 hours of initial in service training, with yearly updates of an hour or more).
Here BFI outlines how every health visiting and community service must be embedded in and well supported by a network of trained peer supporters, or other social and trained breastfeeding support. NICE recommends that peer support programmes be externally accredited. Good practice includes not only training, but also regular supervision and updates of skills and knowledge. Typical peer support programmes require peer supporters to be experienced breastfeeding mothers, and often expects them to come from similar communities as the population they are supporting. Training generally is part time, over 16-36 hours. Peer supporters work in a supervised setting, acting as an “informed friend,” and referring complex cases on to health professionals or an advanced breastfeeding practitioner such as an IBCLC or breastfeeding counsellor, using a referral pathway.
Breastfeeding counsellors in the UK are also experienced breastfeeding mothers, so they also provide a type of peer support, or “mother-to-mother” support. Their training typically take around two years, and they are autonomous practitioners, who can be responsible for leading their own local breastfeeding support groups, usually through one of the main UK breastfeeding voluntary organisations.
Mothers who are experiencing breastfeeding challenges often need more than one visit – and they need the time that it requires for skilled listening as well as exploration of possible breastfeeding strategies to resolve the issue. Although many health visitors have additional breastfeeding training and skills, the health visitor workforce is vastly overstretched, and it simply isn’t possible to provide the time and the number of visits that many breastfeeding mothers need.
But peer support programmes can provide this – they offer groups where lonely mothers can meet others and gain confidence in their own mothering, alongside skilled listening and well- informed support. Many mothers will find their own “village” in their local breastfeeding support group, and will return again and again. Some will go on to train as peer supporters or breastfeeding counsellors themselves.
Peer support groups are the beating heart of breastfeeding supportHelen Gray, WBTi Joint Coordinator
Every area should have a referral pathway to specialist care at the IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or similar level, for those complex cases where breastfeeding issues cannot be resolved at the level of basic/ routine care or by additional peer support.
The different roles of breastfeeding support in the UK have been outlined in the chart below:
WBTi’s research: Case studies of best practice
The WBTi 2016 Report featured several case studies of areas who showed best practice in providing well joined up, integrated breastfeeding services: Brighton and Harrow.
More recently, our WBTi team has presented posters featuring these and additional case studies of best practices in providing integrated breastfeeding services: Medway, Harrow and Swindon.
These examples of best practice in integrated breastfeeding services gave concrete results.
– a 2% rise in breastfeeding rates in a socially deprived area in 2018 (Medway),
– a 15% rise in initiation and a 12% rise in continuation of breastfeeding over a six year period (Harrow)
– and a 6% reduction in drop off rates from birth to 6-8 weeks over six years (Swindon).
Our WBTi team are always on the lookout for further examples of best practice in integrated breastfeeding services, and we submit them to Public Health England. Please do contact us if you would like to submit your local services!
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