This week’s session was about the benefits of breastfeeding. We had a delayed start, which I think was due to my children (particularly my youngest) taking a long time to settle in the creche. Once we were all ready, we had a discussion about the benefits of breastfeeding – both for the baby and the mother.
This turned into an interesting conversation, not only because the benefits are huge (many of which I’m sure most people reading this will have heard of before), but also because we were reminded by our instructor that many breastfeeding statistics are based on global figures, which could distort our view of how those statistics relate to us. The figures will often highlight the hazards of bottle-feeding, which appear alarming and, in our supportive roles, may be best not to emphasize. For instance, we were told that, globally, breastfed babies are six times more likely to survive their first three months than bottle-fed ones. But how relevant is that to a British mother, when it takes into account poorer levels of sanitation and healthcare in developing countries?
So, whilst it is useful to be aware of current research on the benefits of breastfeeding, as counsellors we also need to be aware of the effect that information may have on mothers seeking help.
I find statistics a little bit difficult to deal with. Firstly, I find that, whenever I try to quote statistics, I can’t remember the figures (‘…was that one in 500, or one in 5000??), but also, I can see how research is often used to prove theories which could just as easily be disproved by other research. So, generally, I’m happier to stick with what ‘feels right’ to me – and perhaps this goes back to what was said last week about supporting mums in finding their own solutions. If they find a solution (a style of parenting) which feels right to them, then the statistics don’t really matter.
Saying that, as a mum, it is always handy to be armed with a couple of ‘facts’ when entering a heated discussion with someone who is not pro-breastfeeding – but maybe the best fact of all is, ‘Well, this works for us’.
During our discussions, I revealed that, as a baby, I was fed on cow’s milk (yep, straight from the bottle!). I didn’t go on to say, ‘and I turned out alright’, but I suppose the implication was there. How many of the hazards of bottle-feeding did I suffer? Well, a few, but I also have some of the traits of the long-term positive effect of breastfeeding. This led me to wonder how many of these benefits are purely related to breastfeeding. Taking improved brain development as an example, a breastfed baby receives lots of skin contact, eye contact and night-time contact with mum. This improves the mother-baby bond, the communication between mother and baby and maybe this, in turn, influences brain development. I don’t doubt for one second that breastfeeding is best, but of course bottle-fed babies can have skin contact, eye contact and night-time contact with mum in abundance.
This left me thinking of how this information may be helpful in supporting mums who may be feeling guilt or grief over the end of their breastfeeding relationship (when it comes too early for them). However, I guess there is always the risk that I’ll become over zealous with attachment parenting principles, after convincing myself not to be too pushy with breastfeeding advice!
At the end of the session, we watched a wonderful DVD called: ‘The Mother-Baby Dance’.
( http://www.lllgbbooks.co.uk/go_shopping/videos_and_dvds/baby-led_breastfeeding_dvd )
The film was made by Christina Smilie M.D. and Kittie Franz R.N. and it shows them encouraging babies to seek their mothers’ nipple. The mother begins by relaxing her baby and then holds him, skin-to-skin to her chest (in an upright position). We then saw the baby moving into an optimum feeding position. It really was quite amazing to see such an instinctive journey.
Some of the babies were very young and some were already established in breastfeeding. However, there were a couple of babies who were up to 12 weeks old and who were bottle-fed, yet they had not lost the instinct to seek mum’s nipple! Wow!
I have seen a similar film on You Tube, which shows a newborn baby in India doing the ‘Breast Crawl’.
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrwfIcPB1u4 )
Unfortunately, my youngest didn’t settle in the creche at all well this week and he was quite upset afterwards. He’s just not used to being without mum, dad or nan I suppose and I think I will have to leave him with his dad (and his older brothers) next week. It’s not the first time one of our children has responded like this to childcare and I sometimes think we must seem a little strange to others in the way that we deal with these things – but I guess there’s a whole other blog in that!
A couple of interesting questions came up in this week’s session and it would be really good to hear what your experiences are (please leave lots of comments!). Firstly, what made you want to breastfeed? and Secondly, did breastfeeding work as a contraceptive for you?
‘The wise old owl sat in an oak,
the more he heard the less he spoke,
the less he spoke, the more he heard,
why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?’
This weeks session was about Communication. Just as well, as I left the house having a little tiff with my daughter who wouldn’t put her socks on!
When we arrived at the creche, all the other children were already there and there seemed to be a lot of babies crying and being comforted by the creche workers. My two were trying to get back out of the door to play on the bubble cars outside, so I took a few minutes to explain that they would need to wait until the babies were ok before they could go outside. Then I headed off to the training room.
As the quote above implies, communication isn’t all about talking. This session was invaluable to me, not only because I talk a lot, but also because I feel quite aware that I will not always be talking to someone who has had experiences like me – and I worry that sometimes they might not feel good about the person they think I am. I’m not sure that makes sense. I mean, sometimes I get comments from others like – ‘wow, you must be angelic/supermum/an earth mother’. No, I’m not trying to boost my ego here! Obviously there’s nothing superhuman or angelic about me, but there are a lot of mums who don’t immediately identify with someone who has a lot of children. I’m fearful of putting people off, as I think I may have in the past.
So this session was a lesson in Active Listening for me – and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Peer Counsellors are not to offer advice. The aim is to listen carefully, to begin a trusting relationship, to ask questions which encourage an opening of dialogue and to offer information. We were reminded that often when someone asks for support, they do not always discuss the most important difficulty first. This struck a chord with me, as I think I do this when I visit the GP. I’ll save up a little list of things to talk about and the one which is really worrying me (like ‘have I got a brain tumour/heart condition/mental illness’!) comes last. Partly because I feel a little silly about it, partly because I feel scared of what I might hear – and in some cases, scared that I might cry. (In fact, really serious difficulties have left me feeling unable to ask for help at all). As the trainer today put it, the client is testing the counsellor – is the counsellor trustworthy? Is the counsellor really going to be supportive of what I want? So the dialogue and the trusting relationship are much more important than trying to impart any wisdom.
We were also told that often the dialogue brings about a number of options for the mother and she is then able to try some techniques and find a solution for herself. This is an essential process as the mother then feels empowered. I then recognised that through my own experience of feeding my babies, I have developed a style of parenting unique to me and my children. This has given me a huge amount of confidence – actually not only in bringing up my children, as it has spilled over into other areas of my life and I am a much more confident person in general than I was pre-children. This is an experience that I would love all women to share. For all mothers it is important to know that the relationship they have with their child is utterly unique – and it is within their power to mould it into the style they feel suits them best. There is no right or wrong way.
This flows neatly into the next point we were reminded of – to be non-judgemental. Although that sounds obvious, there is another side to it – since most breastfeeding counsellors are attracted to the role because they have had a positive experience of breastfeeding, how easy is it to be non-judgemental when faced with (for example) a woman whose mother has told her that bottle-fed babies sleep better? Or a woman whose partner won’t even entertain the idea of his baby being breastfed?
Our instructor explained that we have to leave our personal opinions out of our counselling. It’s not easy to do this. Being judgemental – or comparing myself to others – seems almost second nature, but I have realised that it is just another way of boosting my ego. Obviously I wouldn’t be contemplating counselling if I couldn’t be a bit tactful, but this requires observing my mental attitude and not slipping into a way of thinking which could ultimately destroy my chances of being supportive.
At the end of the session we were given lots of hand-outs with tips about Active Listening, which will be so useful. It was an insightful session for me, giving me a good idea of what the role of Peer Counsellor involves.
We were also sent away with a CRB form to complete, which is a necessity for the course.
Things didn’t go so well for my children this week, with them being brought into the training room more than once – and ending the session with both of them on my knee! I’m not sure why they didn’t feel settled in the creche, after the babies calmed down, but the creche manager assured me that they would form an ‘action plan’ to find ways of keeping them interested. At 2yrs & 5yrs, my two are amoung the eldest three children in the creche and the women there are now planning some more activities for them. It is really good to know that they are prepared to do that, so that I can continue.
This week I began my training for Breastfeeding Counselling – as a Peer Counsellor. To explain what that is: Since 1988 La Leche League have been training Health professionals (mainly midwives & health visitors) to train local mums to offer support and facilities to breastfeeding mums in the area. Those trained mums are called ‘Peer Counsellors’. So I hope that this is the beginning of a journey for me, towards a rewarding career of supporting mothers (I would like to become a Doula one day).
Perhaps I should say a little about myself here – as you do at the beginning of a training session! I have five children, ranging from 11yrs to 2yrs (four boys and a girl). I started out determined to breastfeed my first and I was very fortunate in that I had support from a lovely nurse right at the beginning and my first child was, as she put it, a natural. Perhaps it wold be more accurate to say that he was hungry and as determined as I was to get it right! So I have been very lucky that breastfeeding has been a breeze for me. It has also been such a wonderful experience that I want to do everything I can to help other women who want to breastfeed, but this training is going to help me understand the ins and outs of overcoming difficulties and communicating to mums in their time of need.
It’s a bit of a juggling act at home, because I also (with my partner) home educate our kids, but it feels right for me to be doing this little extra bit for me, & others, right now.
So on Monday morning I found myself booking my youngest two into the creche at the Sure Start centre in a nearby town. After having my children around me most of the time, this was quite a step for all of us, but the women at the Sure Start centre (the venue for the course) are fabulous and anticipate that there may be some problems with children settling. Nearly every mum in my group, of about 10, have also put their young ones in the creche for the first time, so we are told that this session will be an informal one and the few interruptions are normal. Bringing a sigh of relief from me, as I was dreading having to leave if my two became upset.
The session lasted about two hours and we were introduced to some of the professionals who will be training us (Sure Start workers, Midwives and Health Visitors) and some Peer Counsellors who trained last year and talked a little about what they are doing with their skills now. They are currently running a couple of drop-in sessions at the Sure Start centre, where mum’s can come along & comfortably breastfeed, with Peer Counsellors present to offer support or just to chat to. I was really encouraged to hear what they have accomplished in an area which has had its problems in the past.
It is also very reassuring to learn that I will become part of this team – a network of volunteers supported by the Primary Care Trust – so I won’t be alone in the rather daunting task of helping someone with a problem. In fact, the counsellors have a meeting once a month, with a creche available.
It was explained that many counsellors come and go, as their personal commitments change when their children get older and mums go back to work. Because of this, there are never really as many counsellors as they would like. Even committing ourselves to one event every two months would be very helpful to the team. It was good to get an idea of how much I’d be expected to do.
Some of the work also involves going along to Parentcraft sessions, to talk to mums and dads antenatally and one of the professionals present has a session booked for next week, which she invited us to. I am hoping to go along and I have since received a call from a current counsellor who is booked to go in that night. It’ll be great to see how she works and perhaps to chat to a few mums and dads myself. Now I just have to arrange it with my partner – having to put our five kids to bed alone is a daunting task!
At the end of the session we were set homework (shock! horror!). Oh, but it wasn’t so bad – just to log how many people we speak to about breastfeeding, or about the course, during the week. So, lots of feedback please folks, so I can tell them I’ve told several hundred people, lol! Seriously though, any questions, please ask.
Aferwards, I went along to pick up my youngest two from the creche and found that they just didn’t want to leave! They have been talking about it ever since and can’t wait to go back – what a relief.
Here are the aims of the Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor programme:
- To increase the incidence and and duration of breastfeeding in the area.
- To increase awareness of nutritional and emotional needs of babies and the role breastfeeding can play in meeting those needs.
- To establish a structure to provide ongoing information and support for breastfeeding mothers in the area.