One of the things I have been involved in this year is training Breastfeeding Peer Counsellors for HEHA (http://www.southerndhb.govt.nz/index.php?pageLoad=2483).
Peer Counsellors are trained to support women in their community during the “normal” course of breastfeeding. There are lots of people you can contact to help you with breastfeeding: Lactation Consultants (worldwide), Plunket (in New Zealand), your midwife, various charities such as La Leche League (worldwide) and NCT (England) and other medical and health professionals, but talking to another mum who has been where you are, had the same concerns and worries, understands how tired you are, what it’s like to try to manage a house, other children AND a new baby, is “real”. Just because it’s not a medical problem, or an actual problem with your baby, doesn’t mean you don’t need someone to talk to, and that’s how Peer Counsellors fill the gap between no help and “professional” help.
Peer Counsellors receive training in the normal course of breastfeeding, how breastfeeding works, how to get things off to a good start, the common problems that mothers face, normal newborn baby behaviour, and where to good, referenced information to share with the mothers they meet. They also know how to listen – really listen, not just nodding and saying yes, and then telling you all about what happened to them when they were breastfeeding! Everyone else you meet in the supermarket does that 🙂 Peer Counsellor also treat everything you say with the utmost confidence – they don’t discuss anything you say or do with anyone else. They also know what they don’t know, so if they are not sure they know how to get help to help you. That might mean they suggest your contact a medical professional, or they might call their supervisor to discuss the general details (with your permission) – they won’t share your name or personal details, just the details of the concern you would like information about. Other than that, Peer Counsellors don’t tell you what to do. They will help you consider your options, find good information, provide a listening ear, work out what you want to do (or not do!). They won’t tell you that you must keep breastfeeding – only you can decide, and it is nothing to do with anyone else.
I consider it a privilege to train Peer Counsellors. I have trained young mothers, women who have grown children and grandchildren, maternity nurses – a wide range of women. Next year I will be training some student midwives too. The more people who understand the normality of breastfeeding, who can support mother’s through their breastfeeding journey, the more likely it is that breastfeeding will return to being seen as the way to nurture a baby. This doesn’t mean that everyone must breastfeed, just that if you choose to, you will be supported with good information and there will no longer be concerns about whether it’s “ok” to feed in the local cafe, the park or on the bus!