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Mothers to offer breastfeeding support in new volunteer scheme

Ashleigh Gillespie
Martha Gill
Cheryl Harper.

A group of 12 Orkney mums is ready to help guide folk through the challenges of breastfeeding after completing an online course to become peer support workers.

Orkney already boasts some of the highest rates of breastfeeding in Scotland, and these newly-recruited volunteers aim to boost this even further, as well as generally supporting mums to make the feeding choices that are best for them and their little ones.

As well as initiating a peer support group for breastfeeding, which meets by video conference each week, the 12 mums will also be on hand to share their valuable experience for any new or expectant mum past the 27th week of pregnancy who is looking for extra support or has questions when it comes to feeding.

“The women that have signed up to be volunteers are all so committed,” said Louise Brewer, NHS Orkney’s infant feeding improvement specialist.

“They are all so devoted to helping other women. Some of them have experienced their own struggles with getting breastfeeding established, and they have overcome it.

“It’s really good because I think we do have a fantastic professional support here in Orkney, but I think some folk might feel like ‘my baby’s three months old, so I don’t want to bother them now’

“Whereas these volunteers are other mums — they’re peers.”

One of the 12 mums who
have volunteered to help supply this vital form of support is Martha Gill, a nurse from Westray. Originally from Australia, she has previous experience working as a breastfeeding support volunteer there. When she heard that a similar service was to be offered in Orkney, she was keen to promote good feeding choices here.

“I know from living in the isles that we don’t necessarily get the same level of coverage here,” said the 32-year-old, who is mum to six-year-old Anjasa and ten-month-old Asha.

“Just having someone in the service here who understands the difficulties of boat timetables or whatever — that can help.”

Meanwhile, Kirkwall mum of two Cheryl Harper was keen to apply her own experiences with breastfeeding to helping others.

“I would like to support other mums to breastfeed for as long as they choose to do so,” said the 28-year-old, who is mum to three-year-old Esme and one-year-old Izzy.

“I had a difficult time breastfeeding my elder daughter, and didn’t continue for as long as I had wanted.

“Afterwards, I learned a lot more about breastfeeding and more about what is normal for a new baby. I realised a lot of the things I had thought were true were just ‘myths’. Knowing the facts really helped me when I went on to successfully breastfeed my younger daughter, and I hope that I can use that experience in this role, to support other mums.

“I hope that by providing a further means of support and information to mums, it will allow them to work through any difficult challenge they might encounter and breastfeed for as long or as short as they want to.”

Another vounteer, Ashleigh Gillespie, also from Kirkwall, said: “I was really fortunate to have a great support network, but I know that lots of others are not as fortunate, and I just felt like it was something that I could give back.”

All the volunteers went through several weeks of training in order to become fully accredited NHS volunteers and to learn about different ways they can support other mums with feedings.

Ashleigh, who is mum to six-year-old Brooklyn and 20-month-old Jack, said: “The training was done online because of COVID. It was actually quite intense really, trying to find the time to do the training online while having a family.

“We learnt about everything you could possibly think of and it gave us a really good grounding to help support other mums.”

For further information about the scheme, you can ask your midwife or health visitor.

You can also join the private Facebook group, NHS Infant Feeding Support Group, if you’re a mum or mum-to-be.

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