We recently spoke with Helensville local, Lana, a mum of two who trained to be a breastfeeding peer supporter during the 2021 lockdown. Lana is also an osteopath and through her work sees lots of babies with feeding challenges. Having a challenging start to her own breastfeeding journey gave her even more inspiration to help others by being a peer supporter.
Why did you decide to become a peer supporter?
As an osteopath, I see lots of babies with feeding issues and I refer them to the lactation consultants at Helensville Birthing Centre. So I’ve built a relationship with the centre. Renee (one of the centre’s midwives and lactation consultants) mentioned the peer supporter course and I thought it would fit really well – helping mums and babies along the path to feeding better and helping make the breastfeeding journey easier. So, the training tied in nicely for me.
What do you find most rewarding about being a peer supporter?
One of my favourite things is helping new mums with their first breastfeeding experiences. Being able to help them normalise how they’re feeling and allow new mums to continue on the feeding path when they might have given up without support. That, and helping mums and babies have a happier, more cohesive relationship.
Are there any challenges that you see often?
Especially in the early days – with new mums – not really understanding how frequently baby feeds and how normal it is for them to be on the breast all the time. There’s a lot of comfort feeding. Nothing really prepares new mums for that. Along with that comes the tenderness and latching troubles, including mastitis and sore nipples.
Did being a mum yourself inspire you to become a peer supporter?
Absolutely. I had some breastfeeding troubles with my first child. My son has a heart condition which I found out about when I was pregnant. We had a rough start – he also had a tongue tie. He was gaining weight really well, but nobody was addressing his latching issues despite the facts my nipples were sore and bleeding.
But we got there, and I was able to breastfeed him for about a year and a half. He weaned naturally when I was pregnant with my second. So, I was able to turn it around from my experience as a new mum, but I felt like I needed to do something to help other mums not have such a difficult start to breastfeeding.
I remember saying to my husband, “Wow, I’m lucky I had a mum who breastfed and I got support through her.” The hospital were telling me I needed to feed every three hours and that’s it. Don’t feed in between. Whereas my mum kept saying, “No, he’s hungry just feed him.”
He wasn’t allowed to get his tongue tie cut because of his heart surgery – he was 12 weeks when he got it cut. So I persisted with breastfeeding for 12 weeks with bleeding nipples and that was when the birthing centre came in – they were great. A lactation consultant supported me through that time – that really helped.
What difference does it make to mum, baby and the whānau in general when breastfeeding is successful?
It’s a more cohesive relationship for everyone. The word that I like to use is co-regulation. When mum’s calm and baby’s feeding it’s like you’re both co-regulating through the calmness. It’s a lot easier to be calm and support your baby’s needs when you are feeding successfully. I think a lot of mums feel pressure when they can’t do it, they think it’s their fault or that they’re doing something wrong because of the way breastfeeding is portrayed in the movies. They see people breastfeeding on TV and it seems easy. And so they try it and it’s hard. Baby doesn’t jump onto the boob and just start sucking away.
I think it makes it a happier relationship for everybody when it’s going well and smooth and easy and they’re getting help – it’s going in the right direction.
Most of it is feeling heard, feeling supported, that someone’s there to help them and not feeling that they are stupid. That’s significant as well – to be able to say, “This is normal, you’re doing really well.” It’s often that moral support that they can do it, they can get through – and that there’s help there and an ear too if they want to cry. Knowing that there’s someone else and others out there who are going through similar and have come out the other side totally fine.
Is there anything else that you want to share about being a peer supporter?
It’s a really fulfilling experience. In Western society we’ve kind of lost our village. There’s a big push towards people feeling like they have to do everything by themselves. I think what helps to create more of a village for women is to have non-judgemental support and to be able to chat and feel normal about what they’re going through.
It’s fulfilling – the help you can give.
We were at a birthday party last weekend, there was a new baby there and the mum saw me feeding my one-and-a-half year old. We started chatting and she was just so interested, it was her first time feeding and she was having some issues.
I ended up offering her a bit of breastfeeding peer support as well, which was really cool. In every walk of life, you’ll come across people wanting to ask a couple of questions. Sometimes we feel stupid going to the doctor or sometimes the doctor doesn’t really know. So to be able to help where there’s no judgement. You can go to a barbecue or a party and come out feeling like you can feed your baby better and feel normal feeding your baby. That’s a really cool experience to be able to give.