Mother to mother support in a world of information

Mother to mother support in a world of information

This week, support is the theme of Breastfeeding Celebration Week
#bffriend17

There’s so much to celebrate about breastfeeding, and for me one of the most special things is how much we can learn from each other as mothers.

Of course there is information everywhere, often far too much of it, and there are medical professionals to give technical support, check our babies’ health, and prescribe any treatments that are needed. But in my time as an LLL (La Leche League) Leader, I’ve noticed that passing on pure information is a tiny part of what we do. What brings mothers to our meetings, and turns them into loyal regulars, is the talking – the chance to share their strong feelings about their unique developing breastfeeding relationships.

The simplest of questions: “how do you know when your baby wants to nurse?”; “what surprised you most about breastfeeding?” can easily set off half an hour of discussion. Dazed new mothers with tiny newborns share their shock and wonder; seasoned mothers on their third child talk about how still, every day, there’s something new.

And of course mother to mother conversations like these provide a safe space for complaining. As one mother put it to me: “LLL meetings are the only place where I can sit and moan about breastfeeding without being instantly told to wean”. When a group starts from a safe shared understanding that breastfeeding matters, and a shared knowledge of its many joys, this gives a context that makes it acceptable to explore the lows, too.

The support of peers can also give a rich source of alternative methods and ways to approach breastfeeding-related problems. A mother suffering through a nursing strike can find a “standard list” of solutions online easily, but there’s a whole extra dimension when she can describe it to other mothers who are right there with her. She can show her child other busily nursing babies, and can talk about any mixed feelings she has – perhaps she’s wondering if this might be a chance to wean that she’ll later regret not having taken, or she might be wondering what effect this will have long term on their breastfeeding relationship. Finally, she might return to the next month’s meeting glowing with happiness as she and her baby are back in tune, all is well, and she has added to her stock of experiences to share with the next mother.

Support from medical and lactation professionals has a crucial place; in times of serious need, specialist help from a lactation consultant can be literally life-saving. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, reaching out to strangers on the internet can be enough to get through.

But for everything else, there’s mother to mother support. It’s embedded in its community, and forms a community of its own within that. Mothers come to LLL meetings nervous, uncertain, clutching newborns and wondering what to expect; sometimes they’re still with us years later, bringing all their successive children, perhaps becoming LLL Leaders themselves, or perhaps just carrying on the conversation, and passing on the support to new versions of themselves.

#bffriend17

To recognise the importance of support, mothers are invited to share their photos and stories of support from their own “breastfeeding best friend” on social media, using the hashtag #bffriend17.

Post your own selfie with YOUR #bffriend17 on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

 

Editor’s note:

You can find the findings from the WBTi assessment of mother support in the community in “Indicator 6” in our 2016 report

With further details on mother support in the community in Part 2

 

Helen Lloyd

 

Helen Lloyd is a Leader with La Leche League GB, and fits in as much time  supporting breastfeeding as she can around the needs of her own young children

 

The amazing story of West Herts Breastfeeders

The amazing story of West Herts Breastfeeders

I received too much breastfeeding support – said no mother ever!

Your vibe attracts your tribe

#BFfriend17

I did not realise the power of that statement until I became a breastfeeding mother. Nursing my child became a life philosophy, a kaleidoscope lens, spinning my family, bringing like-minded people together and painting the colours of my parenting. About 3 years ago there was a story all over the media about a mother who was asked to leave a certain store because she chose to breastfeed openly in there. Breastfeeding mothers on social media were furious. Simultaneous protests in branches of that store were set up and I organised one of them. Some great friendships were born out of that movement. This simple act sparked a discussion about the needs of the breastfeeding community. This could not end there.

For Olgas community support

Protest was the beginning.

We wanted to make sure mothers knew their rights. We wanted to educate, empower and bring families together. Slowly a community has been born. It kicked off with a picnic to celebrate National Breastfeeding Week, followed by some meetings in a children’s centre. A year passed and having my third baby gave me a huge boost of confidence to put my peer support training into practice. After another season of outdoor gatherings, I hired a room in a community centre. One of the mothers got inspired and started another group in a nearby town, followed by more of them. All were hosted by mothers who breastfed their own babies and felt they could support others and offer a safe space for befriending.

A few months later we decided to organise peer support training. The services offered by the local health visiting team and children’s centres were not sufficient at the time. And there definitely was a niche for peer support. Having experienced first hand how unique it is having another mother support you through hardships, I fell in love with the idea. We approached other service providers using the Maternity Services Liaison Committee. At first, not many believed in us but, as time passed, we proved to be worthy of their trust. We asked for help from generous friends, who delivered the training at no charge, and we found a venue for free thanks to a children’s centre manager. But mostly we were incredibly lucky to recruit, through our groups, amazing women who agreed to offer their time to volunteer in the local hospital.

We decided it was the right time to create something more formal. West Herts Breastfeeders community came to life thanks to the many mothers who nurtured it deeply. This ‘baby’ was very lucky. It was a firstborn who had all the attention and support from local Infant Feeding teams and the Children’s Services department of Hertfordshire County Council. We came a long way. It took us just over a year to train 18 peer supporters, establish six monthly regular meetings in the West Herts area, recruit nearly 550 members to our virtual community to provide them with 24 hour support through Facebook and all that with no official funding. We are all volunteers. You could be too!

Be the Change

As mentioned in the Open Letter of February 2016, organised by the WBTi UK team, a woman’s ability to breastfeed is often determined by the support she receives and the environment in which she lives. While we cannot change everything, we try to help normalise breastfeeding out and about. We also play an important role in normalising feeding older babies and encouraging mothers to carry on, while often dealing with family pressures to wean or the challenges of returning to work. Most children’s centres provide breastfeeding support only in groups for babies under one year, and health visitors do not see mothers as often as they would like. Not having a healthcare professional label also changes the balance of the dialogue and helps mothers to open up.

Together we can do more

What we strive for in the face of recent cuts and challenges is the partnership between all local services. Our success is owed largely to the power of networking. We can see where we are needed most and what else can be done to make sure no woman is left alone at any stage of her nursing journey. You can help to be part of the change, by simply sharing your thoughts with your newly elected MP. Use the WBTi sample email to tell them what breastfeeding mothers need in your local area. Ask them to use their influence on the Local Authority to showcase the importance of breastfeeding to public health and safeguard their budget for health visiting and breastfeeding support.

Your voice matters.

 

 

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Olga Danyluk-Singh photo for community support

Bio

Olga Danyluk –Singh, Chairperson, West Herts Breastfeeders

NHS Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and mother of three breastfed children

Enthusiastic lactivist!

Cuts to breastfeeding support in England

A number of local and national breastfeeding support organisations have documented cuts to funding and services providing breastfeeding support. This briefing paper was developed by several organisations with the help of volunteers from the WBTi UK team, setting out the current situation in England. It includes a partial list of cuts at the time of writing. Funding situations do change so please send any updates or corrections to wbtiuk@lcgb.org.

The World Breastfeeding Trends initiative is a collaborative effort, bringing together all the key stakeholders in the country to evaluate breastfeeding policies and practices and how well they conform to the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding.

Supporting mothers to breastfeed – more on Indicators 5 & 6

baby-holding-hand

74 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding
44 percent of mothers were still breastfeeding at 6–8 weeks

– Public Health Outcomes Framework (England) 2014/15

90 percent of women who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks report giving up before they wanted to

– David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK

Most mothers in the UK want to breastfeed, yet most mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to. Why?

The fact is that while breastfeeding is natural, mothers need skilled support to be able to breastfeed. Yet many of the health professionals who work with mothers and babies do not have the knowledge or skills to help them.

Indicator 5 of the WBTi examines how well healthcare systems support breastfeeding. It looks in detail at the training of all health professionals who interact with mothers and babies – midwives, health visitors, GPs, paediatricians, lactation consultants and others – both before and after they qualify in their profession. You can see the full education checklist here.

It also asks whether health workers understand their responsibilities under the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and whether mothers and babies are able to stay together when one of them is sick.

Support for mothers comes from many sources, not just health professionals. It can come from family, friends, the community at large, and particularly breastfeeding peer-support groups. In the UK, these are run by organisations like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League, NCT, as well as by the NHS itself. Mothers who have breastfed their own babies – and who have received training to provide breastfeeding support – are able to provide valuable help to new mothers.

In the UK, just 1 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months. Common reasons that mothers give for stopping breastfeeding include:

  • finding breastfeeding painful
  • concerns about their milk supply
  • conflicting advice from health professionals
  • lack of support
LLL Mother support group
Trained support is needed at all levels, from peer supporters to lactation consultants. Click here for details of the different roles.

Peer supporters are “informed friends” who can help mothers understand what’s normal and help with many common breastfeeding concerns. They offer a compassionate and empathetic ear to new mothers.

This importance of this community-level support is recognised in Indicator 6 of the WBTi, which looks in detail at access to skilled mother support and community outreach. Good peer-support programmes can increase the length of time that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies. In other words, they can help mothers who want to breastfeed to carry on for as long they choose.