Today [1 August] sees the start of World Breastfeeding Week, which runs until 7 August, and the role of peer support is the main focus this year.
Janet Calvert, the PHA’s Regional Breastfeeding Lead, said: “While breastfeeding advice and support is available to new mums in hospital and afterwards at home through health visitors and midwives, it can be a challenge to continue breastfeeding as families readjust to everyday life in the weeks and months after the birth of a baby.
“This is when contact with someone who has ‘been there and done that’ can be a real help. Breastfeeding peer supporters are women who have breastfed their own baby and who have undergone training to help them support others. They can listen to any concerns a mother may have about feeding her baby and will provide extra support and encouragement which can make all the difference.”
Breastfeeding rates are lower in Northern Ireland than in Britain, with 64 per cent of mothers here breastfeeding initially compared with the UK average of 81 per cent. In Northern Ireland, the number of babies being breastfed reduces further to 33% at six weeks and 16% at six months, so the PHA has identified peer support as being central to sustaining and increasing breastfeeding rates here in Northern Ireland.
Research shows that breastfed babies statistically tend to be healthier than bottle-fed babies and have a generally lower risk of ear, chest, stomach, kidney and urinary infections. They also have a lower risk overall of severe asthma and eczema, childhood diabetes and obesity and sudden infant death (cot death).
Mothers who breastfeed are at a statistically lower risk of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Janet Calvert continued: “Breastfeeding peer supporters are really important in helping to ensure that all mothers are well supported. The work they do throughout Northern Ireland is invaluable.”
Lisa Taylor is a peer supporter from the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) area of Ballykelly who has provided peer support in both hospital and community settings.
She currently provides peer support at the Ballykelly Kings Lane Community Centre.
She explained the service that is available: “We find that some new mums need support with breastfeeding and can really benefit from talking to someone who has also breastfed and who can listen to any concerns she may have.
“All new mothers are welcome at their local breastfeeding group and they can also contact a peer supporter by telephone for a chat.”
Leanne Quigley is mum to 10 week old Elsa.
She said: “I found it really useful to be able to speak to Lisa as she really understands what those early days are like. She also knows a lot about breastfeeding and what to expect, and I felt really reassured after I spoke to her. I would encourage other mothers who are currently breastfeeding or mothers-to-be who are thinking about it to get in touch with their local breastfeeding group and call a peer supporter if you have any worries about breastfeeding.”
Audrey Moore, Breastfeeding Co-ordinator, Altnagelvin Hospital, WHSCT said:
“We are always keen to recruit breastfeeding mums to support new mothers. There will be a peer support training course taking place in September in Derry.
“If any mum is interested in becoming a Peer Support Volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org”
Pregnant women and new mothers can contact a breastfeeding peer supporter by asking their midwife or health visitor for details.
Full details on all peer support available locally can also be seen in the PHA booklet ‘Off to a Good Start’ on page 55: www.bit.ly/offtoagoodstart
Notes to the editor
Contact details of Peer Support programmes include:
Abbey Mums, Newtownabbey 028 9086 9378
Mum-to-Mum, Belfast Trust 028 9026 6924
Mid Ulster Mums 028 8676 9994 and
Mums 4 Mums, Larne 028 2827 6044
HUNNI (Helping U Nurse as Nature Intended),
Causeway Area 07412 675 706
Healthy Steps for Life Peer Support
Armagh 028 3752 2381 ext. 2349
Banbridge 028 4062 3306
Brownlow 028 3831 1440
Dungannon 028 8772 2821 ext. 3212,
Newry and Mourne 028 3083 5435
Derry/ Londonderry and wider area 028 7134 5171 ext 214839
or bleep 8230