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So you want to train to be a breastfeeding supporter

Updated: Feb 9

I'm often asked about routes into breastfeeding support so today I thought I'd post some links. The more people who know and feel confident supporting women to breastfeed the better. We used to have a shared knowledge about breastfeeding but we lost it once the numbers of women breastfeeding plummeted in the 1950s.

Across the UK there are different schemes with different levels of training, provided by the NHS and charities. It is worth knowing the difference between them if you are looking to get support with breastfeeding or looking to train.

All breastfeeding support training includes information about bottle feeding and formula milk, as it is about supporting the individual woman and family in what they need, whilst helping them to breastfeed their baby for as long as they want.

Peer supporter

The easiest and quickest way is to become a breastfeeding peer supporter. Peer supporters are volunteers, and may work in breastfeeding drop in support groups, or general baby groups, and, in some cases, on postnatal wards in hospitals. Across the UK there are different schemes with different levels of training, provided by the NHS and charities.

Training could take a couple of days or eight evenings. There is usually regular supervision and ongoing support and training. Training is either free or a few hundred pounds.

In my area (Bedfordshire) there is a very good breastfeeding peer support scheme organised by the community NHS. It is 2.5 days of training followed by a 1-1 session and termly meet ups. It is one of the best training sessions I have ever been on. It is the same Unicef Baby Friendly UK recognised Management and Support of Breastfeeding training as the health visitors and children's centre staff and there is a follow up one to one session and termly updates and reviews. In return you are asked to volunteer as a breastfeeding buddy at one of the Baby Brasseries at least twice a month. You can take your baby/toddler to the sessions and babes in arms can be taken on the training.

The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) have several different levels of training at reasonable cost. It is worthwhile joining them as their magazine is very interesting and will increase your knowledge.

(Edited to add:

Since first publishing this blog post, there are other peer support schemes I would recommend. The first is Milk Mentors, set up by my friend and IBCLC J'Nel Metherall. Excellent training and support to run your own local breastfeeding support groups, or support families who attend your other classes. A number of people I have trained to be Starting Solids Facilitators have done training with Mindful Breastfeeding. )

Breastfeeding counsellor

The next level up with breastfeeding support is to become a breastfeeding counsellor with the NCT or a La Leche League leader. These two qualifications are extremely thorough, and are well respected. Training takes a couple of years. You would be able to give more in depth 1-1 support, home visits, as well as group support.

La Leche League have one of the most comprehensive trainings. It is internationally recognised as it is a worldwide organisation.

The NCT breastfeeding counsellor training is also very thorough and more expensive (finance is available) but you also get a foundation degree.

Lactation consultant

Lactation consultant, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), is the highest level of qualification. A lactation consultant is highly knowledgeable and experienced in giving breastfeeding and infant feeding support. It requires many hours of experience before and during training. It takes a few years, and there is an in depth exam. Most lactation consultants are also midwives, health visitors, or breastfeeding counsellors.

If anyone says they are a lactation consultant you can check against the list on the Lactation Consultants of GB's website. Most midwives and health visitors have done no more than the 2.5 day Management and Support of Breastfeeding. Indeed that's what I have. GPs and paediatricians have even less. (Though I think every paediatrician should be a lactation consultant.) So if you are on the receiving end of feeding support and are not happy with the level of expertise then ask to see a lactation consultant.

So there you have it: different routes into different levels of breastfeeding support.

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