Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Breastfeeding: peer support in action

I love the work I do as a peer supporter of breastfeeding. It's one of the reasons I wrote Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform, which in some ways is peer support in book form (more about that in the introduction to the book!). Today something happened to remind me, once again, of the power of sharing our experiences with other mothers.

When I trained as a peer supporter we were encouraged, as a group, to share our breastfeeding stories with each other. I spoke about my first daughter Evie (that's her in the picture below) and our problems with feeding, and also about my second child, who was completely different and a guzzler from the get-go. I think I was feeding my third child, then only eight weeks old, while I was actually talking! That was in January 2011.

The full story of my breastfeeding journey with Evie is in the book, but I'll summarise here: she had silent reflux*. She would arch her back and cry during feeds, was hard to settle, didn't feed for long or very often, gained weight slowly and went on total nursing strikes. She popped on and off the boob during feeds, making feeding in public messy. She was manifestly uncomfortable much of the time. At five weeks I mentioned the idea of reflux to my health visitor, who firmly told me to put the idea out of my mind, then left without suggesting anything that might help. For the next five months I struggled on, until, after a referral to a paed, Evie was finally diagnosed with reflux and started on infant Gaviscon. Things improved from that moment on and I fed her much more happily until she self-weaned at eleven months, having never been a baby who got much comfort at the breast.

Fast-forward to today. BEARS, our group of peer supporters in Amber Valley, Derbyshire, has a Facebook group (actually, we have two - one for everyone to join, and a closed one for us to talk amongst ourselves). It's a great way for us to stay in touch with each other, and we can pool our experience to better help the women we support. Today the question of reflux came up. And that's when one of the other peer supporters posted this:

"I remember you telling us the story of the silent reflux when we were training... I told my friend about it and how similar it sounded to you so I suggested she ask the doctor about it and the doctor agreed she had all the symptoms... so you passing on your story stuck with me and therefore helped my friend and her baby :) It's amazing that you've helped someone and you didn't even know it :) They are both doing fabulous! She's now 12 weeks old and on meds for the reflux and one very happy breastfeeding baby girl who has doubled her birth weight and some more!"

This is just a great example of peer support in action: shared knowledge meant that this mother could get the help she needed and she and her baby are happily breastfeeding. I feel great to have been involved, however indirectly - and it's stories like this that keep us doing what we do.

*You can read more about reflux here: If you're concerned about your baby, seek help: peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors from the major breastfeeding charities, IBCLCs and infant feeding advisers should have the information you need or be able to point you in the right direction.

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