Peer Counsellors

A new grandchild… a time for happiness or stress?

Becoming a parent is an amazing and exciting event, and for grandparents it just as exciting too!  Even if your baby isn’t the first grandchild in the family, it will still be a time that everyone wants to be involved in.  You probably noticed that being pregnant almost seemed to make you public property to some people, and even strangers were happy to tell you their birth stories and give you advice.  I remember being eagerly told that my life “would never be the same again” by several people – including strangers 🙂

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, you will hear just as many stories from other people – including the inevitable horror stories.  Establishing the breastfeeding relationship with your baby takes time.  Breastfeeding is something we have to learn to do.  Yes, it is the natural way to feed a baby, but if it’s not something we’ve done before, then we need to learn – just as we learnt to walk, talk, eat, etc as we grew up.  In the past we would have learnt a lot about breastfeeding as we grew up, by seeing women in our close community breastfeeding.  Unfortunately our communities are more widespread these days and we don’t grow up around cousins, aunts, friends of the family, breastfeeding their babies.  One of the ways humans learn to do things is by seeing others doing them – just look at children desperate to copy what their older siblings and parents are doing!

Sadly, due to the way many of our parents, and even grandparents, were advised to care for their babies, we are often not lucky enough to be able to learn from their breastfeeding experiences.  This can lead to some real conflict in the family.  Grandparents want the best for their grandchildren and usually really want to help their own children (you) become parents too.  Most grandparents will have been strongly encouraged to feed to a schedule – often 4 hourly – which would have meant that breastfeeding would almost certainly have failed.  Mothers were told to let their baby cry rather than spoil them by picking them up or holding them for too long.  Some mothers defied the “rules” of those days and breastfed on demand anyway, but they seem to be in the minority.  Have you noticed how we seem to go along with what “medical” people tell us, without questioning them, no matter how hard it might be, or how it goes against what our instincts are telling us to do?  Whole generations of mothers followed these “rules”.

Imagine how grandparents feel seeing their son/daughter looking after their baby with no routine or plan for the day?  For some, it must look as though everything is totally out of control!  For others it might feel that the baby is not being looked after properly… after all, the “rules” are not being followed.  If you were taught that picking up a baby all the time would spoil them, then you would be worried if someone else seemed to be doing the thing that would ruin the child.  Imagine the dilemma!  What do you do?  Interfere?  Or let the baby suffer?

And for new parents it can be difficult to trust our instincts.  It’s uncomfortable to feel that you have to justify your (inexperienced) thoughts on parenting to someone who has already successfully raised their child(ren).  No matter how old we get, it can be hard to go against our own parents – you are always their child, no matter how old you are!  Backing up thoughts with research sometimes works, but most of us have heard the “well, you grew up all right” response.

What we know about a baby’s development and breastfeeding now is so much more than what was known when our parents were new parents.  Some of it will sound amazing, but much of it might actually make grandparents feel guilty.  Guilty for not doing the “right thing”, but maybe also for not following their instincts and parenting the way they really wanted to…

Either way, what do you do?  The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has a downloadable leaflet called You’re going to be a Grandparent.  It is a document that talks about why breastfeeding is important for a baby, and why it’s also good for the mother.  It answers some questions too – like the ones about feeding so often, feeding for too long, and how grandparents can really help and be involved with their new grandchild without resorting to giving bottles.

It might be worth thinking about things that would be really helpful to you and asking grandparents to do some of those things for you.  Give them the chance to take your baby for a walk or bath the baby if you want to – but if you are not comfortable with that, don’t feel you have to!  Talk to them about what you are trying to do, and how you would like them to be involved – ask them to take lots of pictures for you, knit or sew for your baby, talk about stories or songs they used to read or sing when you/your partner were babies.  Learn some phrases that help you respond:  “that’s really interesting, thank you” or “I hear what you’re saying but the research I’ve read says…..  Can I show you?”  Here are some more ideas you might find useful.

You all love your baby, and all want what’s best for him or her.  Comments can be difficult to deal with, and somehow when they come from grandparents they seem to manage to knock our confidence and beliefs so much more.  Make sure you and your partner talk about what you want to do and find ways to support each other during these times.  Your partner may be able to talk to his or her parents more easily.

I feel very sad when I talk to new mothers trying to deal with breastfeeding issues that are primarily due to the changes they have made as a result of comments undermining their confidence.  If you are struggling with this and need some help to get breastfeeding back on track, or help with ways to handle unwanted input to your parenting style (or anything else to do with breastfeeding), leave a comment on this post, contact a local breastfeeding support group, local peer supporters, or La Leche League.


The Breast Room in the House

The Breast Room in the House was an idea I had about a year ago.

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) takes place the first week of August each year.  Early in June 2011, during a discussion about WBW,  I was asked what I would do if I could do anything locally to help women who want to breastfeed.  Having been involved in breastfeeding drop-in groups in England, I was keen to start something similar in Dunedin.  There are many groups around that support breastfeeding, and places women can go to get help (eg. Lactation Consultants, Plunket, LLL, etc), but I wanted to create something that was less “official” and had no links to any specific organisation.

That year, I’d also been training women to volunteer as Breastfeeding Peer Supporters and so I was also conscious that these women needed somewhere to volunteer and use their new skills.  Some of them were happy to make contact with mothers they met during their day to day lives, but others were keen to do something more structured.

So, when I was asked what I might do, the idea of The Breast Room in the House began to grow.  The Methodist Mission had recenly opened The Hub in South Dunedin, a community centre for groups offering support/information/education for local families – the perfect place for me to start 🙂

And so now, one year on, The Breast Room in the House is well on it’s way to being very successful!  There is an ever growing team of volunteers, with myself and Jill providing support, ongoing education, and an escalation point for the peer supporters.  The feedback from the mothers who have visited us has been great – and they keep coming back too!

The Breast Room in the House is a place to come for information and support about breastfeeding; it’s for pregnant women, mothers who are trying to make breastfeeding work, mothers who just want to have somewhere to go for a cup of tea or coffee on Thursday mornings, somewhere for a chat about why breastfeeding didn’t work… a comfortable, welcoming place where women can meet other mothers, and talk in confidence about their situation.  We can provide information sheets, books, breast pump hire and a listening ear 🙂

The theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2012 is Understanding the Past – Planning the Future.  The past year alone has been interesting, and the future is exciting!  I hope that The Breast Room in the House will continue to grow.  We are already able to offer more than we could when we started a year ago, I expect us to get busier in the next year, perhaps we’ll even open up on another day of the week too.  We move to bigger premises in the next month or so and I’ll be relocating the antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents to our new venue too; I’m even considering starting a nursing bra fitting service  – The Breast Room in the House will be a center for everything to do with breastfeeding!

Who knows where we will be in another year!



Peer Counsellors

One of the things I have been involved in this year is training Breastfeeding Peer Counsellors for HEHA (

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!