Tag Archives | Mother to Mother Support

Helping Families in Alaska Access Virtual Breastfeeding Support

By Jessica Harper, IBCLC

Photo by jeff.snodgrass via Flickr

Photo by jeff.snodgrass via Flickr

In this day and age, Google can be a new mother’s best friend. It can also be their worst enemy.

I’m an IBCLC in Fairbanks Alaska and I run a successful virtual breastfeeding support group (through Facebook) for our local WIC clinic. The group started about a year ago and now has over 300 mothers. It’s a great alternative to Google as it’s filled with real live mothers at various stages in lactation, all of whom have encountered their own challenges.

Mothers participate in our closed group multiple times per day and throughout what can be the lonely midnight and morning hours.  Here in the interior of Alaska, winter time temperatures can often dip to -50 below zero. Who wants to take their newborn out in that? The group provides a way for mothers to get critical breastfeeding support from their own homes. This is especially important for those who may have transportation issues. Some mothers hide behind our online Facebook group, never attending an in person breastfeeding support meeting. However for others, the group helps them feel connected and actually encourages them to venture out and meet these moms that they interact with daily. This provides for in-person peer support and often helps encourage relationships.

Subjects range widely. Is my baby getting enough to eat? My baby is biting me, what can I do? Can I use birth control? I need help with breastfeeding, who can I call? Mothers supporting mothers is what keeps the group going. They are able to link one another to online articles, to share information and even videos.

Our WIC clinic has 4 breastfeeding peer counselors that help monitor the group and ensure accurate evidence based information is being provided. One of our peer counselors took a video of her nursing in public in a baby carrier and shared it in our group for all to see. Nursing in public can be intimidating for some, and being able to share that fear with others and explore options for conquering that fear can be helpful. It’s awesome to read when a mom posts about how she nursed in public for the first time that day and just wanted to share with us.

Fairbanks is a big military town. The moms here often have no family living nearby and when they have visitors, or they go home to visit, they can experience anxiety with breastfeeding and what their family is going to think. With smart phones on the rise, the group is available at the touch of a finger. The online group provides a constant source of stable support. A core of other mothers facing similar situations. When partners deploy or spend 12-14 hours a day in the field the mothers have each other.

This group has by far exceeded my expectations. Often, we get moms in the clinic who decline our breastfeeding services but later request to join our Facebook group. While some may not want the phone calls that our breastfeeding peer counselors provide or an in office consultation with me, they are still receiving support.

Since starting this online group our breastfeeding rates have increased! More moms are reaching out, feeling comfortable and getting the support they need. We have flyers posted all over our town promoting our group. While our group is mainly composed of WIC mothers, it is not limited. I feel having a wide range of mothers truly helps the support dynamic amidst the array of challenges a nursing mother can face. It has been rewarding running this group and I look forward to seeing it and others like it grow!

The kind of support that we provide online isn’t unique to Alaska. Just a few weeks ago, Lara Audelo released a book called The Virtual Breastfeeding Culture: Seeking Mother-to-Mother Support in the Digital AgeIn it, she shares stories from more than 30 mothers who have found what they needed to be successful at breastfeeding online. As more and more mothers are seeking information and support on the internet, I encourage more of you to explore whether an online support group is what the women in your community seek.

936744_10151597490791745_1490584438_nJessica Harper currently works for WIC as an IBCLC. She is a LLL Leader & mother to 3 in Fairbanks, Alaska. After experiencing her own breastfeeding challenges, she became a strong advocate in her community. When she’s not supporting breastfeeding mothers, she enjoys gardening, sewing and running.

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The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding

By Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

Mother support for breastfeeding has been my passion for more years that I care to admit, starting when Marian Tompson, La Leche League’s first president, provided me with the confidence and encouragement to reverse iatrogenic lactation failure and successfully breastfeed my first daughter. At the time, I was living in remote north-west Queensland and Marian was in Chicago, the other side of the world. There was no email or Skype, international calls were prohibitively expensive, and we did not have easy telephone access. So contact was by letter, supported by printed material – a newspaper reprint, “Mother’s milk saves baby”, and the LLL book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which arrived in the nick of time.

After writing and speaking on mother support groups over the years, the logical next step was a book of information on old and new ways of providing this support, drawing on experience from round the world. Finding the right co-editor was important, and friends in WABA recommended Melissa Vickers. What an inspired recommendation! Melissa was the ideal collaborator, with professionalism and heart, and we thought alike in so many ways. It has been a joy to work with her. We also had a small support team who acted as a sounding board – Rebecca Magalhaes (USA), Sarah Amin (Malaysia) and Paulina Smith (Mexico).

The resultant book, The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding,
describes a range of ways to support mothers to continue breastfeeding after they leave
the maternity hospital. While mother support for breastfeeding is the 10th Step of the Ten
Steps for Successful Breastfeeding, which hospitals must fulfill in order to be accredited
as Baby Friendly, the chapter authors of this book go beyond this to look at mother support in a wider context.

Melissa and I have brought together experienced people from five continents to describe
what is being done to support mothers to breastfeed in different situations and cultures.

Some chapters describe traditional mother-to-mother groups such a La Leche League,
the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Scandinavian and Malaysian groups.
Others describe innovative approaches to mother support through the use of new
technology such as text messaging (MumBubConnect), a peer counsellor program in a
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, groups for mothers of multiples, and the Baby Café drop-
in centres. Other authors describe how peer counselling programs have been developed
in a variety of settings, for example in Bangladesh, India, Paraguay and South Africa,
occasionally with male breastfeeding peer counsellors as part of the team. Steps to
encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended six months, and breastfeeding
with complementary foods thereafter, are described by some of the authors. Finally, the
authors discuss why good programs fail and what is needed for sustainability.

Mother support is not only about providing a mother-to-mother breastfeeding support
group or a peer counsellor program, but it is something the whole community can be
involved in. This book provides ideas to get you and your workplace or community
started. The intended audience is hospitals, departments of health, non-government
organizations, BFHI committees at hospital, state and national level round the world,
and individual health workers and policy makers whose work involves the breastfeeding
mother and her baby.

The editors have donated their royalties to support the work of the World
Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).

“The 10th Step and Beyond is about supporting the mothers. Virginia Thorley and Melissa Clark Vickers have brought together a truly remarkable mix of 26 people, a team that reflects both the global character of the issue, as well as its multidimensional nature.”
-Professor Anwar Fazal, Chairperson Emeritus, WABA

How has mother-to-mother support impacted your breastfeeding relationship?

*** Watch this space on Thursday for a follow-up piece by Dr. Thorley’s co-editor, Melissa Vickers on the power of making connections. ***

Dr. Virginia Thorley has been involved in the breastfeeding field since qualifying as a breastfeeding counselor in 1966 with both La Leche League and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (then the Nursing Mothers’ Association). She certified as an IBCLC in 1985 and remains certified. She was inducted as a Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA) in 2008. She is on the Board of Directors of the Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand (LCANZ). A cultural historian of the history of medicine, she holds two research high degrees in History (MA and PhD) and has many publications

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