How I became a Lambeth Breastfeeding Peer Supporter
Hello, I’m Robyn. I am 21 years old and I work as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter in my local community Lambeth. Maternity services is a career field I happened to fall into completely by accident and it all started with volunteering.
I gave birth to my daughter at age 17, and I had been planning to return to education when she was six months old. My family nurse encouraged me to attend the Breastfeeding Network (BfN) Helper’s course when my daughter was three months old. I didn’t know what a Breastfeeding Peer Helper did (nor had I ever attended a Milk Spot), so I just thought that the training would be something interesting to fill my time, until my return to education, but not something that I could see myself sticking with long term. Oh, how wrong I was!
I went to the course knowing very little about volunteering (or the politics of breastfeeding for that matter). In other words – I had no idea what to expect about the experience I was about to embark on. I discovered that the course would be training us to offer non-judgemental, evidence-based breastfeeding PEER support to families in the community. Peer is a keyword here, because our roles as volunteers would be based on providing completely non-medical support. We would just be mothers who had breastfed our own children giving basic support to new mothers on the same level as them – a friendly face, who also has trustworthy and accurate infant feeding information.
My amazing tutor stressed to us how important our roles would be, and how the difference the simple act of offering kind words and listening to someone going through a hard time makes. I was ignorant to this truth until I experienced seeing the gravity of effect my role would have on the mothers and babies I met at Milk Spots.
Having gained brilliant knowledge and supportive skills, I left the course keen to put these in to practice. Once I had completed the BfN Helper Course I started volunteering weekly at two Lambeth Milk Spots, which I continued to regularly volunteer at for two years. In the early days my role consisted mostly of setting up/tidying away, welcoming families and offering refreshments, and also silently practising the phrases of support that I so wished to use with the mothers that attended, but my intense shyness delayed me in putting to practice all I had learnt.
However, during that time I was given the most invaluable opportunity to work beside and learn from an experienced midwife. This experience allowed me to further my knowledge of specialist breastfeeding support. The midwife I worked with encouraged me to use the training I had received from the course. With her support, I began sharing accurate information, supporting and empathising with new mothers who wished to breastfeed their babies. This valuable experience helped in building my confidence as well as developing my important listening skills. In particular for me, through having the opportunity to speak to and encourage new mothers I was able to overcome my initial apprehension about socialising with other mothers due to a perceived age barrier, a massive personal achievement! In addition to this, I was further encouraged to continue my work by seeing the difference breastfeeding peer support made to a mother’s confidence and independence.
Volunteering gave me the opportunity to discover and develop a part of myself I hadn’t yet known, to expand my work experience within Maternity Services and to experience the immense rewarding feeling from seeing the difference my time made to a mother and baby breastfeeding duo. This encouraged me to pursue the next part of training the BfN offers. A year after the initial Helper course I went on to do the Supporter course – which focuses on enhancing our listening and empathy skills to make our volunteering even more effective and trains us to be able to volunteer on the National Breastfeeding Helpline (another lovely accessible avenue of support for new mums). Soon after I started that training, I applied for my first ever formal job role as a Breastfeeding Peer Telephone Supporter and I got it!
Three years after doing the Helper course I am now in my second paid Peer Support role and along with a fellow Peer Supporter we will soon be facilitating a completely Peer Supporter-lead Milkspot in the community. What a huge career leap that I was only able to make due to my volunteering. As a result I am very thankful to the Breastfeeding Network for their training, I feel I am well equipped to put the knowledge, professional skills and experience I have acquired to use in a variety of roles. Needless to say, there have been many benefits from volunteering I hadn't expected when I started out.
My experiences as a volunteer have enabled me to find a vocation which I am committed to, without volunteering I may have never have landed myself a paid role in something I feel so passionate about.