My typical Monday morning involves me spending a few hours volunteering at a local breastfeeding support group.
When my daughter was born, over 10 years ago…
(time really does fly, when I tell you to hold on to those little moments I really do mean it, because before you know it they are big and full of ideas and determination)
…. I had always intended to breast feed her, it was something I knew from the moment I was pregnant, I had a vague understanding of the benefits for my baby, and a better understanding of the benefits to me.
I knew that there was a link between breast feeding and reduced risk of breast cancer. My mum died of metastasised breast cancer 5 years previously and reducing my own risk was an important if somewhat selfish factor in deciding to breast feed.
I had done some antenatal classes and they included breast feeding sessions, they were lead by midwives or breast feeding “experts” and I learnt all about the basics:
- latching on
- let down
- skin to skin
- hand expressing
We looked at all the pictures and watched the DVD’s, and played with the knitted boobs.
What I didn’t do was go to a breastfeeding support group before my baby was born, where I could actually talk to parents who were breastfeeding and see breastfeeding in action.
In the early days of breastfeeding I experienced some issues, my daughter lost some weight, our technique wasn’t great, we had to learn together how to put theory and knowledge into practice. It took time but I went on to breastfeed my daughter for well over a year.
Sometime in the first couple of months I was introduced to our local Sure Start children’s centre and the breastfeeding support group – Breast Buddies, run by one of the local health visitors. The group became a place of sanctuary and support, when people started to question was my baby feeding too much? too often? too long? feeding again? I knew that in this group I could find support, answers and comrades and peers.
It was my first experience of peer support, but I saw the difference it made to me and those who attended. When my daughter was about 9 months old I was given the opportunity to train as a peer supporter myself, and eventually with a very good friend when on to run the Breast Buddies group in my local children’s centre until I moved across the Pennines 4 years later.
I am still in touch with some of the women I supported in that group, they share their days to day lives with me via social media and the odd message, I occasionally run into them in groups on Facebook. It is wonderful to see the journeys they have been on, seeing their children grow. That they remember me and take time to let me know how they are feels very special.
When I got settled in my new home here in Cheshire, I sought out my nearest breastfeeding peer support organisations (Cherubs and Bosom Buddies) and started to volunteer with them.
My typical Monday morning is all about something I think is very important and very special. I listen to the stories of the parents I talk to, I hold space for them to explore how they are feeling; supporting them as they think about the challenges they face and they celebrate their milestones.
I see them gain confidence, skills and knowledge, supporting each other, lifting each other up and checking in on each other. Occasionally I offer some support with slings and carriers if people need it (enabling them to find another tool to parent in a way that works for them).
Research suggests that peer support may have long term effects on the beliefs and attitudes of parents, healthcare professionals and the community about breastfeeding in addition to the benefits for parents who attend.
When I meet parents before their baby is born I always suggest popping along to their local breastfeeding peer support group. Meeting the volunteers and staff and talk to other breastfeeding parents. It really helps to build a circle of support before their baby is born. They’ll know where they can go if they need some support or to share their celebrations and milestones.
The group I support welcomes parents before their baby is born as well as those who are exclusively breastfeeding or pumping or combi feeding. They may be having the best of times or the worst of times with their feeding experience.
We have a great team of healthcare professionals and volunteers who support the group with knowledge, care and compassion; doing their utmost to support women to reach their breastfeeding goals. The parents in the group are wonderfully supportive, and it really is a pleasure to spend time with them.
I have often said that it is my early experiences peer support that set me on the path to becoming a doula.
So for now whilst I have the time I will continue with my typical Monday mornings, meeting inspiring and strong parents. Knowing that the support I and my fellow peer supporters offer is more valuable than we may realise to those we meet.
If you would like to know more about local and national breastfeeding support please take a look here:
Local and national infant feeding support