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Health / Peer supporter numbers on the rise as breastfeeding week kicks off

Receiving peer supporter certificates from the NCT. Back row from left to right: Pryde McGinlay, Claire Tulloch, Valeska Pearson, Hazel-Ann Johnson, Cally Mair, Yvette Leask. Front row from left to right: Rhiannon Mann, Laura Kain, Helen Smith. Missing from the photo are Kathleen Mullay, Kay Anderson and Charlotte Polson.

MORE support is to become available to breastfeeding mothers in Shetland thanks to a rise in the number of volunteer peer supporters.

Twelve local peer supporters – mothers who have gone through breastfeeding themselves – recently undertook training with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).

Today (Thursday) marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week and it comes amid a drive by the Scottish Government to lower the drop-off rates for breastfeeding mums.

NHS Shetland’s infant feeding midwife, Susan Keay, said the initiation rate of breastfeeding locally was about 76 per cent of new mothers.

That figure drops to 42 per cent when babies are six to eight weeks.

“We have high initiation rates compared to other areas in Scotland, and we’re always in the top few,” Keay said.

“We also have high rates at six to eight weeks compared to other areas in Scotland, but this can always be improved.

“There are so many health benefits around breastfeeding that the more mums who are supported to breastfeed, and feel confident about it, the more health benefits there are for their children and future generations. This will lead to savings for the NHS.”

Keay is tasked with spearheading, locally, a national Scottish Government breastfeeding project which aims to reduce the drop-off rate, at six to eight weeks, by ten per cent by 2024/25.

As part of this a new class centred on breastfeeding is being trialled with expectant parents in Shetland in addition to the usual antenatal classes.

“What has come back after speaking to mums is that there are a lot of people who want more information,” Keay said.

“Maybe more on positioning and attachment before they have their babies or, if they are going to Aberdeen, a one-to-one session.

“We’ve done one class and we’ll be doing another in the next month, making any necessary changes and doing another. Hopefully, be able to offer it then to all expectant parents.”

A national scheme called Breastfeeding Friendly Scotland is also launching in Shetland focusing on feeding in public places. This could mean cafes display window stickers showing they welcome breastfeeding mothers.

“We will gradually be going into public venues, like cafes or sports centres, and discussing the Breastfeeding Act with the owners or managers,” Keay said.

“We will ask them to speak about it with their staff so that they know that, say in a cafe, a breastfeeding mother shouldn’t be asked to leave or cover up. And that under the Breastfeeding Act a baby younger than two is entitled to feed in a public place where children under two are welcome.”

She added that in Shetland “most mums feel comfortable with feeding anywhere, but certainly, south, there are still a few issues in certain areas.”

Of the twelve people who undertook peer supporter training were some already signed on as peer supporters but who wanted to further their knowledge.

Peer supporters are mothers who have breastfed or are still breastfeeding and volunteer to be on hand to offer advice to new mums.

Some attend Shetland’s weekly breastfeeding group at the Bruce Family Centre in Lerwick on Fridays from 12.30pm to 2pm (not 2 August), while there is also a breastfeeding cafe on the first Wednesday of every month at Magno in Lerwick between 10.30am and 11.30am.

A Facebook group also allows people to access support online.

“We have had peer supporters for a number of years but we’ve had a dip,” Keay said. “It’s support that really benefits new mums.”

One peer supporter is Rhiannon Mann, who has been volunteering for more than two years.

“Peer support is so important for helping mothers and families feel supported to meet their breastfeeding goals,” she said.

“The peer supporters can provide information and support in a variety of different ways – the weekly support group, over the phone, through the Facebook group – and many mothers often feedback that the support received was key to them continuing and meeting and going beyond their original breastfeeding goals.”

Among the local activities planned for World Breastfeeding Week is a fundraising bake sale at the Gilbert Bain Hospital on Friday (1 August).

Keay and some of the peer supporters are expected to be present at places in Shetland through the week with support leaflets and information.