Celebrating the breastfeeding community

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This post was written by Rosie Dodds from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). It highlights the valuable difference that community support makes to breastfeeding women.
During World Breastfeeding Week we’re sharing a guest blog each day to highlight some of the key issues around the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding.

This World Breastfeeding Week, add your voice to Unicef UK’s Change the Conversation campaign, calling on UK governments to take urgent action to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. 

This week let’s celebrate all the support that women receive – from partners, grandparents, breastfeeding specialists and voluntary support organisations.

The aphorism “it takes a village to raise a child” seems applicable to breastfeeding in this society, where families often lack cultural and practical knowledge.

Most women stop breastfeeding reluctantly, feeling that they have no other choice. Others start using formula but continue some breastfeeds. That is why NCT invests in support services, drops-ins, Baby Cafés, the NCT helpline, peer support and antenatal education.

The value of social support

Social support is vital in enabling breastfeeding; it is far more than just chatting. Breastfeeding depends on motivation, confidence and resilience as well as accurate practical information. Mothers often derive these most effectively from other mothers. The Baby Café model integrates skilled specialist care with social support. A recent evaluation of women’s experiences of breastfeeding support found reasons for attending varied from a need for general support, particularly for isolated women, to help with breastfeeding ‘crises’. Visitors to the Cafés share their experiences below.

I find it really helpful because there’s nobody else to ask…all my family’s back in Sri Lanka, so I don’t have my mum or a sister or whoever to rely on, to ask simple things, because when it’s your first child you don’t know what to do.

Research shows that women value authentic support, so they can develop trust in supporters, who listen with empathy, take time and affirm mothers’ own abilities.

I always get the help I need. Always. No matter how silly the question is, they’ve always got an answer… it’s nice because they do remember your name, they do remember your baby, and it just feels, it feels nice.

Partners and families can have a strong influence on decisions to breastfeed and can support women to continue, especially when they encounter breastfeeding difficulties.

They kind of supported my husband to support me; he helped me once we got home with positioning and, you know, he would say, oh you remember about this position, why don’t you try that?

The evaluation found that effective social support, combined with help from skilled practitioners, can enable women to overcome difficulties and continue feeding for as long as they would like.

Peer support: Helping mum on her road

In keeping with enhancing community support, NCT have trained thousands of peer supporters, often in more disadvantaged areas, who provide one-to-one and group support and influence the perception of breastfeeding in communities. In the words of one NCT-trained peer supporter,

As a volunteer you want people to breastfeed, but on the training you learn about listening and helping mum on her road.

In Peterborough, 33 peer supporters attend antenatal sessions, visit postnatal wards, make contact with mothers 48 hours after discharge, support Baby Cafés, Family Nurse Partnership and Health Visitor teams and have their own Facebook page.

NCT provides support and information for all parents, however they are feeding their baby. Anyone can call the NCT helpline, open 8am to midnight every day, with questions or concerns about baby feeding. We place high value on a non-judgemental, listening approach, enabling women to do what is right for them and their family. To make this a reality for more families we need a supportive culture so we will continue to work to change wider perceptions of breastfeeding and offering family-centred support.