Sometimes its the little things that matter most, in fact sometimes its the little things that that make the biggest difference.
I have come to really appreciate this over the last few years in my job as a breastfeeding peer support worker for NHS. When I had my daughter six weeks early I desperately wanted to breastfeed but there was no support, I muddle through and fought everyone and everything to attain my goal. Later when I saw friends doing the same I could not believe that there was no support to help moms with this most important skill. I wish I could say that after seventeen years this was not the case anymore and moms had the support they needed to breastfeed, however while things have improved support is still very limited.
This is why I am so proud to do my job as a breastfeeding peer support worker and so proud of the team I am part of and even more proud that we NHS. Its taken over five years it get to where we are as a service today. So what is our service and what do we do?
Our team has about ten peer support workers but we started off as only two. We are all moms that have breastfeed our own little ones and have been through it all and then some. We have all been extensive trained in providing support to moms in many ways and situations. As well as the peer support workers we have a specialist infant feeding health visitor. Were held together and organised by our peer support co-ordinator and managed by our baby friendly implementation officer. We are small in the grand maternity scheme of things but we have worked hard to make a change to the women that give birth in our hospital and community.
How have we done this?
Well first was to make sure that all women were supported with accurate, evidence based information so they could make an informed choice regarding feeding their baby. We knew also that along side this we needed to provide practical support on a one to one basis both in hospital and in community. So what have we done as a team to make this happen?
As a team we wanted to make sure that moms have continuation of care antenatal, through to the birth of their baby, to postnatal. So we speak to moms antenatal providing them with the all information they need to support them in the early days with the challenges of breastfeeding their baby this means they know us and our friendly faces.
As a team we know how important it is for our moms to have integrated care from hospital to community seeing the same faces at home as they had in hospital so they felt at ease and cared for. So we work hard to provide a seven day service to moms on the postnatal wards providing one to one support for skin to skin, position and attachment, expressing and newborn behaviour and of course emotional support too. This is hard as we are all part time but we find a way to make it work. We also support other staff on the paediatric assessment unit and neonatal unit helping those that are most vulnerable and in need of help. On discharge from hospital we follow up with home visits, on day three where possible, and continue for as long as needed with one to one support by further home visits. We also keep in weekly telephone contact with all our moms up to around 8 weeks, at which point we sign post them to our support groups for as long as they wish to attend. We also have a breast pump loan scheme to help support moms with clinical issues such as premature babies or tongue ties so they can maintain lactation and continue their breastfeeding journey. Every year we organise a breastfeeding day as part of breastfeeding awareness week and over a thousand moms and their babies attend. We also help with the healthy start vitamin scheme.
Our specialist infant feeding midwife has worked tirelessly to write new breastfeeding polices for the hospital and NNU such as if a baby is reluctant to feed, as well as train staff and reach out for baby friendly standards. She puts in place care plans for moms that may be struggling due to illness or other issues following birth and provides support for moms to express and breastfeed their babies on NNU and PAU. This has meant less babies having to be admitted to the paediatric ward and a reduction in the use of donor milk on NNU saving money to the hospital but also helping moms that may otherwise of had to give up breastfeeding.
Our specialist health visitor has also worked tirelessly to support moms in community with the help from our team and two community nursery nurses who work with us two days a week. She runs two weekly breastfeeding surgeries, which our team and other health professionals refer moms to that are having issues such mastitis, weight loss, tongue ties and much more. With the help of a feeding plan and position and attachment support from peer supporters, moms are getting the help they need to continue breastfeeding. The biggest achievement has been the setting up of her own nurse-led tongue tie clinic that has meant moms struggling to feed with tongue ties can now been seen in days or weeks instead of months, which has made a massive difference in the breastfeeding journey of many women. She does all this as well as train staff and support the community to reaching baby friendly accreditation.
Our co-ordinator does just that keeps our team working to the best of our abilities and provides us with support. Our manager works hard to oversee the whole team but also to make sure that we are following baby friendly standards the basis of everything we do.
Yes we may be a small cog in a vast machine but am I so proud of us. We have raised the rates of breastfeeding at 6/8 weeks and the initiation rates, we have also lowered the supplementation rates in the hospital which makes us happy as hopefully it means our service will continue to be commissioned.
You see, we love our moms and we love our babies! Everyone of them. We know that breastfeeding is a journey of different lengths and circumstances. Every mom and babies journey will be different and so we must care for them all uniquely.
As a team we want them to have the very best care, we want them to feel listened too, supported, empowered and for them to know that each and everyone of them matter to us. We make sure that families are at the centre of our care, that they feel welcomed, cared for and in safe hands. We do not judge but treat everyone with respect and make sure the care and support we provide is individual to them and their needs. We treat our moms like we would want to be treated, with love, dignity and trust. We give all we can, whenever we can and much as we can. We’re not prefect we make mistakes but we try our best to learn for them. Everything we do is for women, their babies, their family and the wider community. As a team we do not just provide breastfeeding support but help families build close loving relationships that last.
Not only do we care for moms but we care about each other as a team, we need each other and without all our parts we just could not do what we do.
We have faced hard challenges, opposition and much frustration. Its taken a long time to gain the trust of the other health professionals, services and children’s centres we work along side and to prove our worth to be part of the hospital and community. We have battled to change the culture and make sure women get breastfeeding support when often it is viewed as not important and also to make sure nothing any one does, in providing care for that mom and baby, undermines their breastfeeding journey. We have set up referral pathways, paperwork, spreadsheets, other services and computer systems. All of this with nothing to compare to or refer too.
Plus we get to do all this as part of the wonderful NHS, working along side many wonderful health professionals, what a privilege!
Have we made a difference?
When a patient consultation was done 97% of mothers said that someone or something of the integrated breastfeeding support service was the key resource that helped them continue to breastfeed, 53% mentioned the peer support team specifically by name. The responses of the women were staggering many going into personal stories and details of the support they received often in tears. Words about the service such as amazing, beautiful, needed, wanted, showed the deep gratitude and affection felt. In fact we have become know as the ‘amazing purple t-shirt ladies’. Many tears were shed in our office when we read the difference we had made to many mom’s and babies.
Yes we maybe small, we can at times feel like we are swimming against a tidal wave to get to were we want to be as there is still so much to do, but sometimes its the little things that matter the most and ultimately make the biggest change of all to person that needs it! The dream is that teams like ours will be in every hospital in the whole of the country until we are needed no more because breastfeeding is the norm but till then we keep on working hard, supporting families the best we can.
Here’s a few of things women said about our team and their journey of breastfeeding.