On any given day in the parking lots of the district office and county health centers, you’ll notice at least one car with an “Eat Local” decal promoting breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed an infant. Referred to as “the best public health policy throughout history” and recommended by prestigious organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the World Health Organization (WHO), NKY Health offering breastfeeding support services to the community seems as natural as breastfeeding itself. Despite being natural, breastfeeding doesn’t always come easy. New and even experienced mothers can experience difficulties, but NKY Health is there to provide multiple levels of support.
The Breastfeeding Peer Counseling program was implemented in our district 11 years ago. Currently NKY Health has three breastfeeding peer counselors on staff. They are supported by grant funding through Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to work with WIC mothers and their children who live in our district. Moms who don’t qualify for WIC are referred to other sources of breastfeeding support in the community, like the La Leche League, Breastfeeding USA, St Elizabeth Lactation Department or the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
The peer counselors are trained to provide basic breastfeeding support like the benefits of breastfeeding, how the breast makes milk, signs of a good latch and how to get breastfeeding off to a good start. They are also provided guidelines for things that would be considered outside their scope of practice and who to refer to in those cases.
Peer counselors are available outside normal business hours, including evenings and weekends because, of course, that’s when breastfeeding issues arise. Liability concerns prevent them from making home visits, but they can meet moms in a clinic or at a place in the community like local restaurants or the library. The peer counselors work primarily from home and contact clients by phone through calls and texts. In fact, more moms prefer communicating via text; so much so that the program is experiencing greater success in maintaining communication. The peer counselor is extremely helpful in providing reassurance, something that mothers of newborns really need. Most mothers are concerned about their milk supply and how to tell if the baby is getting enough nourishment. This is a completely normal concern, and the encouragement the counselor provides alleviates the mother’s worry enough to continue to breastfeed.
Samantha, a client of peer counselor Amber Davies and mother to baby Franklin, is one of the many program success stories. Amber provided Samantha and Franklin with encouragement and support from day one. When Samantha’s family was pushing for formula supplementation, Amber let her know the effect that this would have on her milk supply. She was there for Samantha during the tough times when the baby wouldn’t latch, through growth spurts, teething and even thrush. She provided reassurance when Samantha was worried about Franklin’s growth, as well as when he wouldn’t take a bottle for the caregivers. Amber educated Samantha on baby wearing and baby-led weaning, which appealed to Samantha’s desire to nurture her baby. They corresponded through texting which Samantha preferred and it was a great way to keep in touch easily.
The number of mothers in the program is a fluid number. Anyone who stops breastfeeding or doesn’t respond to the peer counselor eventually gets terminated from the program. An average caseload would be about 250 pregnant or breastfeeding women, but not all of those are actively communicating with a peer counselor.
Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for mothers and babies alike. It is a special time and creates a lasting bond. Like most things in life that are important, it isn’t always easy, but knowing that a caring and supportive NKY Health peer counselor is only a text message away allows many Northern Kentucky mothers to sleep almost as soundly as their little bundles of joy.
Interested in becoming a peer counselor or know someone who might be? We currently have a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor position open and posted on our website. In order to be eligible as a Peer Counselor the mom has to have been on WIC previously and breastfed successfully for at least 6 months. We get our best peer counselors from employee referrals! For more information, please contact Nancy Merk or visit our website to apply!