"The need for paid peer supporters"

About: Mansfield & Ashfield

(as the patient),

I would like to share my experience of breastfeeding and the value of breastfeeding supporters. I am a mother of 3 and have breastfed all my children, my first for a year my second for 3 years and my third had his last bedtime milk from me on his 5th birthday, so I consider myself an experienced breastfeeder. It is not always an easy ride, far from it, in the early days it can be a very overwhelming experience and this is where I feel breastfeeding peer supporters really do make an incredible difference. To be able to share your worries with someone else that has been there and done it really can help and encourage mum's to keep going. It helps to hear that your not alone and someone else felt like that too, that babies do that and its quite normal and the little tweaks that could make a big difference, a classic example, not pressing on the breast to see if baby is attached so 9 times out of 10 they have then pulled baby to the end of the nipple when they were probably on right! !

My worse experience of breastfeeding believe it or not was with my 3rd baby, we just could not get it together, how could I get it so wrong when I had already had 4 years of my life doing it already. I could not get him latched on properly, I got incredibly sore, had mastitis as we continued to do it wrong and the first 2 months were really not a pleasant experience at all. I was then asked to a community health meeting with the then new Sure Start team in our area, when asked what was needed I immediately said we need a breastfeeding support group. Being a rural area we had never had one before and there was no support at all close by. I was asked if I would be prepared to be trained as a peer supporter and help get the group set up and running and I jumped at the chance. We put a lot of hard work into getting the group off the ground, advertising in local school advertising boards, local GP surgeries, Local chemist's and health centres and sitting in with the midwife on her antenatal classes. This really paid off and before long we were running a really busy group with good results and feedback too, proving what a difference we could make. In our second year we had mum's coming back with their next babies.

We always welcomed the whole family, dad's, grandma's and siblings, when we had siblings in we would make sure we had activities put out for them to do giving mum chance to speak to us if she needed too. What was always a big highlight for us too was the support within the group grew and the mum's themselves would share and swap stories to help and encourage others. This also had a big impact on how long the mum's would continue to feed, many of them feeding for far longer than they had planned. I believe mum's often will listen and respect what is being said from a mum to mum perspective rather than being told by a health professional, obviously they are the experts and peer supporters who are trained know how to work within their boundaries but peer support just seems to work to encourage mum's to carry on so well.

I was then fortunate enough to be offered a position being a paid peer supporter in a pilot scheme being run in Derbyshire. Initially this was very hard work as we were not introduced particularly well but once all the other midwives and health visitors could see how valuable we could be and a difference we could make we got called upon more and more and after a time the results really started to come through. We worked in the community and went in on day 2 and 4 after discharge on home visits and when needed after, but this was also backed up by phonecalls if needed. We also ran a 24 hour helpline which was very well used and we all took a turn in the team to man the phone.

As always in life circumstances change and unfortunately my dad was taken ill so I had to leave my paid peer support as I then became a paid carer as part of my dad's care. I was fortunate though as I could still continue my voluntary work in Ashfield which I did so for 3 and a half years until once again circumstances changed again and my dad was taken into hospital and I then needed to find paid work to help support my family. I then had to make one of the most upsetting decisions as I had to leave my voluntary post too which I had worked very hard with for all that time, years of work, the group, which was very successful, I had also attended district and county health meetings and been part of the team that put together the peer support program which is now running in Nottinghamshire, I was gutted to no longer be a part of that, this is something that I do so well, and I just hope and pray that some day in the future we will get that vital funding to be able to pay peer supporters in Nottinghamshire so that they can continue to do an incredibly valuable job but have the chance to make a career of it.

One of my proudest moments was knowing my babies were thriving and growing well and that was all down to me. Nature gave us the tools and I used them well and if I could give someone else the chance to do the same for their baby what a special gift that would be.

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Response from Jenny Newman, Digital Health Project Manager, Health Partnerships, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

picture of Jenny Newman

Thanks for taking the time to share your story, it is fascinating to see how each breastfeeding relationship can be so different, and the difference that breastfeeding support can make to you individually and as a family. It is also good to get some insight into how support is provided in other areas. I know the Sure Start team will be keen to hear your views, thanks for sharing.

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