Peer support

Where can I find other breastfeeding mothers?

Other mothers are a great source of support for women who are breastfeeding. This “peer support,” provided by mothers who are breastfeeding or who have breastfed, has been shown to be very effective at increasing a mother’s likelihood of breastfeeding. They can be found in local communities or through programs run by hospitals or community health services. Another source of peer support is online groups.

A) Describing peer support and its benefits

Peer support means the support of other people who are or were in a situation similar to yours. Peer support can be formalized through organizations. Informal peers can be friends and neighbours.

Each mother has her own struggles, but sharing friendship and experiences can make the journey easier. Peers can:

  • Offer practical support including meals or gently-used baby items or by distracting older children while the mother breastfeeds.
  • Help to identify breastfeeding problems and encourage mothers to seek help.
  • Have knowledge of local breastfeeding specialist services or other resources.
  • Advocate for the mother.

Peer support has been found to be very effective at increasing a mother’s likelihood of breastfeeding and reducing infant formula use (Camacho  2020; CDC 2013; Kaunonen 2012).

The benefits of peer support for families with premature babies are well documented and include (Forster 2014; Hall 2015):

  • More confidence, self-esteem, and feelings of well-being (Maleki-Saghooni 2019)
  • Better coping skills
  • Feelings of empowerment and increased ability to care for children
  • Shorter stays in hospital
  • Reduced parental stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding

Formalized peer support benefits the providers too. After receiving training, people who provide formalized peer support have reported benefits including (Johnson 2017):

  • An increase in breastfeeding knowledge
  • More confidence in their abilities
  • A feeling of satisfaction

B) Where to find peer support

1) La Leche League International

La Leche League International is a non-profit advocacy group that promotes breastfeeding. It was founded in 1956 and operates in more than 60 countries. It relies primarily on volunteers to organize local groups.

La Leche League has meetings that provide a safe place to meet other mothers and watch and learn about breastfeeding. They also have online breastfeeding information.

2) Formalized programming

Some hospitals, community health services, and non-governmental organizations offer a variety of peer support for families. Peer support can be delivered one-on-one through hospital- or community-based programs that offer in-person or telephone matches, or through support groups that meet in-person or online.  

The groups can be led by breastfeeding specialists or by parents with experience in breastfeeding. 

3) Informal peer support

Breastfeeding peers can be other mothers of younger children, older children, and even adults. Experienced mothers can be a wonderful resources and are often happy to share their stories and support new mothers.

4) Support communities online

There are many support groups online, some of them moderated. They allow mothers to connect immediately with a large community (Lebron 2019). When combined with online learning, they are effective in helping mothers breastfeed (Almohanna 2020).

References

Almohanna AA, Win KT, Meedya S. Effectiveness of Internet-Based Electronic Technology Interventions on Breastfeeding Outcomes: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res. 2020;22(5):e17361Britton C, McCormick FM, Renfrew MJ, et al. Support for breastfeeding mothers. Cochane Database of Syst Rev. 2007(1):CD001141

Camacho EM, Hussain H. Cost-effectiveness evidence for strategies to promote or support breastfeeding: a systematic search and narrative literature review. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2020 Dec 3;20(1):757

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to Prevent Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases: The CDC Guide to Strategies to Support Breastfeeding Mothers and Babies. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2013
 
Forster DA, McLachlan HL, Davey MA, et al. Ringing Up about Breastfeeding: a randomised controlled trial exploring early telephone peer support for breastfeeding (RUBY) - trial protocol. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014 May 28;14:177
 
Hall SL, Ryan JD, Beatty J, et al. Recommendations for peer-to-peer support for NICU parents. J Perinatol. 2015 Dec; 35(Suppl 1): S9–S13
 
Johnson R, Ansley P, Doolan-Noble F, et al. Breastfeeding peer support in rural New Zealand: the views of peer supporters. J Prim Health Care. 2017 Jun;9(2):173-177
 
Kaunonen M, Hannula L, Tarkka MT. A systematic review of peer support interventions for breastfeeding. J Clin Nurs. 2012 Jul;21(13-14):1943-54
 
Lebron CN, St George SM, Eckembrecher DG, et al. "Am I doing this wrong?" Breastfeeding mothers' use of an online forum. Matern Child Nutr. 2019 Sep 30:e12890
 
Maleki-Saghooni N, Amel Barez M, Karimi FZ. Investigation of the relationship between social support and breastfeeding self-efficacy in primiparous breastfeeding mothers. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2019 Jan 24:1-6