Starting a breastfeeding group
A volunteer's reflection
Interview with Lucy Probert (Helston)
What made you decide to train as a Peer Supporter?
When I had my baby, my local group had closed, which forced me to seek advice regarding positioning and attachment from my local maternity support worker. The advice and help I received was invaluable and definitely the only reason I worked through the problems I was experiencing, rather than giving up. However, the area's support worker was very busy and covered several localities across West Cornwall - I felt sympathetic that she was soley responsible for providing support to so many women who needed it and it really motivated me to train as a Peer Supporter and get the group up and running again so that more women could receive vital feeding support. I wanted to be able to offer the same brilliant service that I received and help other women in my situation.
Why did you want to restart a group that had closed?
I felt that not having a breastfeeding group was a huge disservice to all the young and new mothers the area contains. I wanted to ensure that mothers like myself, who become parents without the support of their families (who often live several hundred miles away) had a service they could turn to for help and support. From first-hand experience, I know how lonely it can be becoming a mother, especially without you mum or sister or aunt to pop round and help you learn how to breastfeed, or provide other such support as company, cleaning or cooking. Learning a new skill, such as breastfeeding, can seem like an uphill struggle when you are already trying to live life completely independantly and without support. I some situations, when the Father is not present due to operational deployment, new mums can feel so overwhelmed trying to keep on top of everything. Relaunching the breastfeeding group would not only provide mothers with the practical support they need to feed their babies, but would also provide a family environment where mums can make friends, chat with like minded people and form support networks.
What things made it hard for you to train, if any?
For me, fitting in my Peer Support training was not easy. The first time I was accepted onto the course, I was unable to attend as my husband was deployed and I was struggling with my son's outgoing nature and need to be constantly occupied. However, I was lucky enough to be offered a place on a subsequent training course, which required less travelling and coincided with my son's childcare. These two factors gave me the confidence to juggle life so that I could attend the course.
Can you explain how the group was relaunched and your role within the group?
Unfortunately, due to the heavy demands on the Children's Centre manager, in the end the group was relaunched because myself and another volunteer turned up to the centre one Monday with cake and good intentions. A few days prior to the relaunch, we set up a Facebook page and spread the word. Only two mums came, both previous volunteers, but we felt it was a success because at least someone turned up! From there, with further advertising on Facebook and the support of the health visiting team, the group has grown. We have a few regular ladies, excellent support from the health visiting team and we also offer support through the private messaging function on the Facebook page. We have successfully engaged with a few pregnant women, who definitely agree that meeting us prior to giving birth enables them to gather useful information and feel more confident coming to the group post-partum. We also regularly post informative articles and resources in the Facebook page, which helps to keep our presence at the forefront of people's minds. I would describe my role in the group as fluid: first and foremost I am a Peer Supporter, and offer support to breastfeeding women and their families. But I am also responsible for everything else, from setting up toys, making tea and coffee, completing administration tasks and liaising with the Children's centre. I try to respond to the group's needs and complete any tasks that come up promptly. This enables myself and the other volunteer, to keep providing peer support to women who need it. We both share the responsibilities for the group equally; we both work hard to deal with anything that comes up and keep the group running as smoothly as possible.
Can you explain anything that made the relaunch tricky?
For me, relaunching the group was like really putting myself out there. It was down to getting things up and running on our own, as the Children's Centre were unable to provide much support due to staffing constrainsts. There was also a delay due to a DBS technical error with the system. Another thing that made the relaunch tricky was effective advertising - in the end, we paid for our Facebook page to be advertised more extensively, which really helped spread the word that the group was running again. Another hurdle we faced was the responsibility of just us running the group. We are the only volunteers, I feel it's really important that users of the group feel we have a strong presence and that we are invested in making the group successful. However, we could really benefit from more volunteers for when the group is really busy and so that when the other peer supporter is at work, I have someone to share the workload. Luckily, two previous volunteers are in the middle of update training and DBS checks, so soon we should be able to put them on the rota.
Do you feel anything has helped you achieve the relaunch?
Real Baby Milk was invaluable in helping with the relaunch of the group. They organised linking us up with the Health Visiting team, chased up queries with the Children's centre and sourced some valuable resources for us to use at the group. The Peer Support Coordinator was also available to give myself a huge confidence boost before the group relaunched, as I was feeling anxious about the low number of volunteers and my lack of experience (compared to my fellow group Peer Supporter, who has 6 whopping years of experience!).
On reflection, would you do anything differently?
I would definitely try and maximise advertising of the group before relaunch, if I did things a second time round. Our second week was busy, because lots of mums mentioned they didn't know we had relaunched the previous week. Next time, I would try to put up posters at the doctors surgery, the health centre, the birthing unit, and Treliske to try to push new mums to come to the group. I also think the group would benefit from having a peer support presence at antenatal classes, however currently this isn't something we have the resources to commit to. Finally, at some point I would like to gather mums opinions on the time of the group, 10-12, sometimes I wonder if it's just a bit too early for new mums, who are usually sleep-deprived and who possibly don't come regularly because the thought of being up and dressed and walking to the group by 10am is just a bit too much. I wonder if 1-3pm might be a better time for the group.
Do you feel the group is sustainable? Do you feel you have a good support team?
I cannot fault the support from Real Baby Milk - it is strong and continuous. The Health Visiting team have also been wonderful and I feel we have built a strong connection with them; we're enjoying having them and I think they enjoy coming. The support from the Children's centre has only been reasonable - unfortunately they seem a bit disorganised and the manager is clearly very overstretched across several localities. We've had two meetings cancelled now due to the manager not being able to attend at the last minute, this is definitely an area I feel needs to be expanded upon in the future. We would really like the group to be more busy and be able to offer more to it's members in the future, we'd really like to expand but will need more support and volunteers to do this.