Peer Support is Necessary for Breastfeeding Success
The point I was trying (obviously badly) to make in the article is the current position we are in, whereby some areas are relying solely upon peer supporters to provide all the breastfeeding education and care - with nobody more qualified on hand for complex or even clinical cases. In the same way it would be wrong to suggest peer supporters have no role, it's equally as wrong that when a mother is in a position of needing more help - the best they can hope for is someone who has done it themselves followed by a few short weeks training. Furthermore the peer supporters in this situation are often unhappy too! As per the quote from someone in the position of having nobody to refer to, there is no job satisfaction from feeling out of your depth with nowhere to turn.
As someone who answers a helpline which often involves calls from different parts of the country - there are times a mum needs in person support from within her local community. Yep lots of time I can refer her to a local group or peer supporters - the mum needs that friendly ear and confidence boosting reassurance what she is experiencing is normal, or tips on how to say maximise sleep or tell if baby is getting enough.
But other times I know the case needs to be handed over to someone with a high level of competence to succeed, and I know the mum needs that NOW - not after seeing someone else who will then need to refer it on again. Mum may have already seen local groups and is calling because it hasn't helped, it could be her case is complex - full of red flag indicators that baby could potentially be at risk if things don't improve dramatically, quickly. In these cases I often spend long amounts of time on the phone, trying to track down someone I can hand over to and know the mum and baby will get the help they need. It's hugely frustrating to be told ah you need to speak to our "breastfeeding experts", getting through and finding out they are peer supporters with nobody above them to refer the case to. If baby is young enough, I grab the opportunity to call the labour & delivery ward -as the Acute Trust often have one IBCLC covering the hospital. If baby is well into community care I can be going round in circles for hours and often end up having to turn to the voluntary organisations to track down a counsellor who can get involved.
This is not right!
The whole situation isn't made easier by the mass use of different titles - even my local community midwives and health visitors had no idea what all the different terms meant and who was qualified to do what, how on earth is a mother supposed to know the difference? I've also spoken to peer counsellors who have innocently called themselves a breastfeeding counsellor, not aware that there was another role already with that title! I really believe there should be fixed titles for the different levels of training, regardless of whether voluntary or NHS - but that will never happen.
To me, the new roles popping up (or were pre new government) are ultimately another way for the NHS to be seen to be doing something, whilst actually still totally undervaluing breastfeeding at the same time - another form of lip service.
Again, I hope readers can appreciate this does not mean I do not value the work peer supporters do or "disapprove" of their role! Far from it.