Breastfeeding Peer Support, how do we make a difference?

It’s widely known that exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life and that breast milk has significant long-term benefits to health and other outcomes.

Hi, I’m Lisa Whipp, co-ordinator for the Breastfeeding Network’s Peer Support Service in Lambeth.

Inequalities in breastfeeding

It’s widely known that exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life and that breast milk has significant long-term benefits to health and other outcomes; also, that UK breastfeeding rates are much lower than for comparable nations. In England, almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born, but at 6–8 weeks of age, only 30% of infants are exclusively breastfed.  

Here in Lambeth, breastfeeding rates are better than average, but we know that most women who stop feeding during the first six weeks wanted to continue for longer and that many barriers to breastfeeding reported by Lambeth parents and professional stakeholders echo findings from other research around milk supply; medical issues; stigma surrounding feeding in public; unrealistic expectations; inconsistent advice; social and cultural influences; and lack of support.  Inequalities in breastfeeding reflect wider inequalities, ‘few health behaviours have such a broad and long‐lasting impact on population health, with the potential to improve life chances, health and well‐being’. Evidence increasingly suggests that breastfeeding is associated with lower risk of overweight/obesity in later life.

The Breastfeeding Network

The Breastfeeding Network has been co-commissioned by LEAP and Lambeth Council to provide an opt-in one-to-one antenatal and postnatal breastfeeding peer support service for LEAP families and universal breastfeeding support in Lambeth. The service supports women at daily drop-in groups, refers women with more complex breastfeeding issues to specialist midwives and provides a universal telephone hotline.  We also offer a CPD accredited workshop: ‘First Milk Matters’; recruit, train and provide ongoing supervision and training to develop our volunteers, as well as deliver an annual study day.

Strong working relationships

To achieve all of this, we rely on strong working relationships with our LEAP partners, children’s centres and local health professionals. We liaise particularly closely with the local infant feeding team, the maternity pathway co-ordinators (MPCs) and both the Baby Steps and CAN teams who introduce and refer women to us antenatally and postnatally. 

Referrals to the service increased significantly with the introduction of the MPC roles based at King’s College and Guys & St. Thomas’ hospitals and further still with introduction of the Baby Steps programme. 

In both instances, to help improve understanding of our service, the MPCs and members of the Baby Steps team are invited to our groups to see first-hand what we do and how we support families. Guest spots are reciprocated and we have regular slots to introduce ourselves and our service to families attending the Baby Steps programme.

Ongoing communication

On-going communication with partner services enables us to not only share what we are doing, such as baby massage, inviting guest speakers to chat to women at our drop-ins about a range of issues that are relevant and link in with LEAP aims; but also keeps us in the loop about what else is on offer to the families we support. 

Another outcome of working closely with partners are opportunities to promote the service more widely, e.g. at Parent Champion inductions, via Family Engagement Workers, at community festivals, family fun days, roadshows, a pilot programme for young dads, etc.

We also benefit from Strand meetings for all Diet and Nutrition-related services and LEAP Service Providers events, which bring partners together to network and learn about new initiatives and strategies – as well as present case studies of our service.  Ultimately, we can see the bigger picture and identify opportunities for collaborating and future working together.

One small piece of the puzzle

It would be impossible to deliver the breastfeeding peer support service in isolation and we recognise that for most LEAP families, our service is just one small piece in the much bigger puzzle that is family life: we want to make every contact count and ensure the families we support have access to the wider support and opportunities LEAP can offer to improve outcomes for them and their children - we can only achieve this by working in partnership.  For more information on what we do, visit our page or contact me: 

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