Not only are we in National Volunteering Week, but the start of June marks my four year anniversary of volunteering as a breastfeeding peer supporter.
Pretty much every Wednesday for I go along to the local Children’s Centre Bosom Buddies breastfeeding support group and help mums along their breastfeeding journey. I also sometimes help out at the ante-natal class on breastfeeding.
Why did I become a breastfeeding peer supporter?
When I had my eldest, my local breastfeeding support group in London was a lifeline in helping me get established breastfeeding. And when I moved to Devon, the breastfeeding group is where I made some of my best friends. I got so much from the groups that I wanted to give something back and to help other mums benefit as much as I did. With huge budget cuts in social and healthcare, volunteers play a vital role in supporting mothers establish and maintain their breastfeeding journeys. I became quite passionate about breastfeeding and as I learnt more about the subject from personal experience, I wanted to share my knowledge with others. But actually, that’s not what being a breastfeeding peer supporter is about. Peer supporters should try not to share their personal experiences, because everybody is different. It’s OK to say something is normal behaviour and to reassure a lady, but it’s not always helpful to say, “Oh, my baby cluster fed for months.” If you do that, you risk getting into a competitive situation, which isn’t helpful at all.
How did I become a breastfeeding peer supporter?
When I found out that the local children’s centre was running a training course for mums to become breastfeeding peer supporters, I jumped at the chance. A group of around 10 of us attended sessions for around 10 weeks where we learnt about the physiology of breastfeeding, the barriers mother face to breastfeeding and, most importantly, about how to listen and how to facilitate a mother to find her own way. Our job is not to advise women, we are there to provide the information she needs to make her own decisions about how she feeds her child and to signpost her to additional help and support if she needs it.
What’s in it for me?
Well, apart from the satisfaction of giving something back and empowering mums to breastfeed, I have learnt an awful lot. I have gained a qualification, but I have also developed skills such as listening and asking open questions to draw information out and to discover the real issues that women are facing. I have learnt about safeguarding, which is useful in my role as a school governor. And I have learnt about personal development. I have definitely developed as a person, but I’ve also learnt about how to encourage others in their own personal development. I’ve become a lot more respectful of other people’s decisions and priorities. Ultimately, a parent will always make a decision about their child based on their knowledge and personal circumstances at the time. Who are we to judge from an external perspective when we don’t know the whole story? But that’s perhaps a topic for another blog post.
What does the future hold?
Well, for the foreseeable future, I’ll continue as a breastfeeding peer supporter. The role fits in well with my life. I can take my children to the group with me. I am actually lucky in this as there are many peer supporters around the country who are not allowed to take children with them when they volunteer – but how can you demonstrate you are a peer if you’re not sat there breastfeeding your own child? My youngest doesn’t start school for a few years yet, but even when he does, I imagine I’ll continue to peer support because I feel like I’m doing something useful.
Do you volunteer? How do you fit it in to your life?