What is a breastfeeding peer supporter?

What is a breastfeeding peer supporter?

The role of a breastfeeding peer supporter - and how you can become one...

Breast/chest feeding is a natural way for parents to nourish and bond with their babies. However, it can sometimes be challenging, and many parents find guidance and support beneficial.

There are three main types of support a parent could need and will reach out to. Breastfeeding Peer Supporters, then Breastfeeding Counsellors, and finally, Lactation Consultants.

Generally speaking, the further along this pathway, the more in-depth the training, and the more complex issues you can support with. Sometimes they are called slightly different things which can be confusing but the roles and responsibilities will show you which level is which, if the naming is slightly different. Ultimately you are looking to support parents, by helping to answer questions, offer tips, and provide a sense of community and understanding to promote successful breastfeeding experiences for mothers and their babies. Breastfeeding peer supporters play a crucial role in promoting breastfeeding and supporting the well-being of all the family with embracing this wonderful bonding experience.

Understanding the role of a breastfeeding peer supporter

When a parent experiences an issue or they have a query, breastfeeding peer supporters often are the first port of call.

As a peer supporter, you will be offering basic practical guidance, and emotional support, to help mothers initiate and continue breastfeeding successfully.  You will be trained to provide information and offer emotional support, surrounding the most common challenges a parent might face. Such as how to increase milk supply or safe storage of milk. Because of this most supporters work through telephone support helplines, as this level of support doesn’t often require one-to-one support. 

Some charities also offer drop-in support groups where a peer supporter can volunteer to help out if they particularly wanted to have direct interaction with a parent. 

Would you like to become a breastfeeding peer supporter?

To effectively support other mothers, breastfeeding peer supporters undergo training which should align with the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Standards. The training provided by us here at Antenatal Training International covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • Debriefing of their own breastfeeding experiences
  • Basic active listening skills
  • Understanding how breastfeeding works
  • Identifying proper attachment and positioning techniques
  • Identifying and addressing common breastfeeding problems
  • Understanding maternal mental health and its impact on breastfeeding
  • Introducing solid foods at the appropriate time
  • Providing guidance on expressing breast milk

You may find that the training is also a personal transformative experience. Peer supporters often report increased self-confidence, a sense of belonging to a supportive community, and enhanced communication and counselling skills. Additionally, many peer supporters find that their volunteer work contributes to their own personal growth and recovery from any issues surrounding their own birth or breastfeeding experiences. 

The responsibilities of a breastfeeding peer supporter

Your main role as a breastfeeding peer supporter will focus on two things – education and supporting the parents’ emotional well-being.

You will be able to offer emotional support and reassurance to Parents experiencing challenges or concerns related to breastfeeding, addressing any anxieties or frustrations they may have. Mothers who receive breastfeeding peer support often express gratitude for the emotional and practical assistance they receive. Peer supporters offer a safe space for mothers to share their concerns, frustrations, and triumphs. So by providing a listening ear, empathy, and guidance, you will be helping mothers navigate the ups and downs of breastfeeding. This support can be particularly helpful during challenging times, such as dealing with breastfeeding difficulties

You may also be assisting with educational aspects and breastfeeding techniques to help boost a mother’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed successfully. By offering evidence-based information, debunking common myths, and providing reassurance will increase a parent’s confidence and empower them to trust their instincts, overcome challenges, and continue breastfeeding for as long as they desire.

This is done by helping mothers with practical aspects of breastfeeding, such as suggesting comfortable positions, tips to help latching, and signposting onward any more serious difficulties or discomfort.

It’s important to note that while breastfeeding peer supporters are often the first point of contact for a mother assisting and educating mothers, they are not Breastfeeding Counsellors or Lactation Consultants. These other two roles are professionals who have undergone specialised training and certification to provide advanced breastfeeding support and manage more complex breastfeeding issues.

How do you start with breastfeeding peer support training?

Begin by researching organisations or initiatives that offer breastfeeding peer support programs. Familiarise yourself with their requirements, training programs, and application processes. Reflect on your personal breastfeeding experience and consider if you meet the prerequisites, such as breastfeeding your child for an extended period.

Once you have identified a suitable breastfeeding peer support program, enroll in their training program. This training will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide effective support to other mothers. The training program may cover topics such as breastfeeding physiology, counseling techniques, problem-solving strategies, and community resources. Upon completion of the training, you may be required to undergo an accreditation process.

Breastfeeding peer support training in NHS sometimes has slightly different requirements to a breastfeeding charity.  So if working within the NHS is something you’d like to do, check out your local trust for guidance. 

To gain practical experience and further develop your skills as a breastfeeding peer supporter, consider volunteering with local breastfeeding support groups or organisations. This hands-on experience will allow you to interact with mothers, observe breastfeeding sessions, and provide support under the guidance of experienced peer supporters. Actively participating in support groups will deepen your understanding of common breastfeeding challenges and enable you to offer valuable insights and assistance to mothers.

As a breastfeeding peer supporter, it is crucial to stay updated on the latest research and developments in breastfeeding support. Attend workshops, conferences, and webinars related to breastfeeding and lactation. Engage in continuing education opportunities to enhance your knowledge and skills, ensuring that you provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to the mothers you support. Some providers may offer ongoing free CPD, if not factor in these costs for your new future. 

Free versus paid for training to become a breastfeeding peer supporter

Most of the time peer support training will be affiliated with a charity or community organisation and the support you give will typically be through their services.

Grants and volunteers will be subsidising the cost of training, so you generally find that this level of training is free of any cost to both yourself and the parent. However, any training you do through an organisation like this will also mean that you cannot use your training in any paid capacity, inside or outside of the organisation, and you are expected to volunteer for a certain duration of time.

Antenatal Training International’s approach is slightly different. Because we don’t focus on just one aspect of a parent’s journey, our  Breastfeeding Peer Supporter training is included within our mainstream diplomas. This offers you more in-depth training, enabling you to run and charge for breastfeeding classes in the antenatal period and answer any simple queries. We also offer Breastfeeding Counsellor and Lactation Consultant training as well. 

Like with any other peer support training, it won’t allow you to directly and solely support one-to-one breastfeeding care, as this will be outside your scope of practice for your level of training.  

A key point of difference is that we  do not ask you to have breastfed for a certain time – we celebrate your skills and vocation for the role, not how many children you may have fed yourself.

The Antenatal Training International difference...

With us, you will undergo extensive training and gain internationally recognised qualifications so that you will become a professional in your own right. This allows you to earn an income and build your own business based on your skills and customer service, because we believe you deserve to be paid for your expertise. 

We agree wholeheartedly that  parents should be able to access any maternity and breastfeeding support they need without necessarily paying for it. However free services can psychologically diminish your expertise and the value of your services. Parents don’t always value free, and they won’t get the full benefit unless they feel as though they have invested. You are worthy of being invested in!

There are exceptions to this, one of which is the offering of services to vulnerable groups through BirthWorld CIC. As a CIC, BirthWorld can access funding and pass this directly to you to run support groups in a variety of topics (not just for breastfeeding) and get paid. In order to offer this service you will need to complete a 1001 days, Breastfeeding Counsellor or Lactation Consultant Diploma and join the Birth World community as a practitioner.

The other reason we don’t offer this as stand-alone training is down to a key topic – continuity of care. 

With so many different stages of training, the message will get confused. Think of it this way, Midwives are all trained under very strict rules dictating exactly what they learn. When a Parent experiences continuity of care, their outcomes, across the whole spectrum are enhanced. Therefore, we also need to offer continuity of care across all our services to enhance a parent’s journey and their outcomes where we can! Therefore it is better to have contact with just one fully qualified expert, rather than a whole host of different knowledge levels and services.

want to get started with a breastfeeding peer support career?

Explore our Diploma Directory for the right career pathway for you. Our programmes are specifically designed to not only equip you with vocational skills in a fully interactive environment, but to empower you with the necessary tools to build your own successful business….

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