With all the national guidance now recommending peer support as an effective method of supporting women and encouraging longer breastfeeding rates, there is also some confusion as to what a peer supporter is and what role she is to play in the provision of maternity services. This article is based on our experience of working with volunteers and groups in the South West and we hope you find it useful.
What is Peer Support for Breastfeeding?
Many studies have shown that training breastfeeding mums in how to support other breastfeeding mums, can have a surprising effect on both the initiation and continuation rates for breastfeeding.
Ingram J et al 2005, studied the effect of training women on the breastfeeding figures in a socially and economically deprived part of Bristol. They concluded; “peer supporters combined with a breastfeeding support group are an effective way of increasing breastfeeding prevalence in areas of low continuation.”
Hoddinot P et al 2006, studied the effect of peer support in rural Scotland. They found group based and one to one coaching from peer supporters increased the initiation and duration in an area with below average breastfeeding rates.
There are many other studies showing similar results.
Traditionally peer supporters will have accessed some form of breastfeeding training – either accredited courses such as the La Leche League training or often training courses that have been developed locally.
Peer Support volunteers are most usually active within a community group situation, quite often based in children’s centres or health clinics.
What is a Peer Supporter?
Normally, a Peer Supporter is a mum who has breastfed and /or provided breastmilk for her child, who has had a positive and successful personal breastfeeding experience and who has undertaken a Peer Supporters training course.
What does a Peer Supporter Do?
A Peer Supporter is friendly and welcoming. She is always looking out for a Mum with no one to talk to. She is there for mothers.
A Peer Supporter listens, empathises with, supports and empowers mothers.
A Peer Supporter acts as a source of good, up to date information about breastfeeding and related issues, and has access to resources, such as books, leaflets and DVDs, to share with mothers and helps them talk through their choices, then supports them in whatever choice they decide to make.
A Peer Supporter enables mums to have a positive breastfeeding experience, no matter how long or short.
A Peer Supporter should ‘do no harm’.
A Peer Supporter knows her boundaries, not giving advice, and referring on to an appropriate practitioner as necessary.
A Peer Supporter gives what she feels she can to her local group, no more. She seeks support for herself as needed.
What does a Peer Supporter not do?
It is important that the community, and the mums attending the support groups, know that a Peer Supporter is not a breastfeeding expert. A Peer Supporter is not a ‘problem solver.’
Peer Support – Mothers experiences
The following quotes are taken from women when talking about receiving excellent peer support.
“Before making suggestions she always looks for the positive and makes Mums feel good about what they are already doing…”
“A friend as well as a supporter…”
“Calm, confident and encouraging…”
“With a quiet and calm manner she provides support in a compassionate way allowing the mother to come to their own conclusions…”