Core Principles - Role and Responsibilities
Clearly defining roles and responsibilities enables a shared understanding that can be utilised by those working with mothers and babies including potential volunteers. This is important as volunteers work within a number of large and small organisations who may currently use a variety of definitions with potential for confusion.
Our working definition of peer supporter
A breastfeeding peer supporter is a mum who has breastfed and/or provided breastmilk for her child and who has undertaken a recognised peer support training programme.
(It is noted and accepted that the length of breastfeeding experience required may be different across organisations).
Role of the peer supporter
A peer supporter will provide social, emotional and practical infant feeding support to mothers and families. Volunteering within clear role boundaries, the peer will develop an affirming relationship, normalising breastfeeding and helping mothers to recognise when feeding is going well. Peer supporters will recognise feeding and other family issues or challenges and signpost to sources of professional or other support when required. This joint working can enable mothers to meet their feeding goals and help the transition to parenthood.
Practical support for breastfeeding may include giving information to make changes that parents can implement themselves. This may include suggestions for helping mum with positioning and attachment, expressing and storing breast milk, helping mum to recognise effective feeding and how to access different types of support. There may be other challenges which may also be practical support and not exclusively about breastfeeding experience; for example the challenge may be a breastfeeding toddler who is transitioning to sharing breast milk or simply to sharing his mum.
It must be recognised that peer supporters volunteer in a variety of ways and places to carry out this work. They might volunteer in the community or in hospital settings, and they may work in a group setting or 1:1 with mothers, offering online/phone/video call support. Peer supporters might volunteer in a neonatal unit or alongside a perinatal mental health team.
In the wider context, peer supporters could also work to raise awareness of breastfeeding and helping to change the culture in their community, by talking to children and young people in schools or supporting schemes such as Breastfeeding Friendly Scotland. In this way they are building community capacity and changing the often embedded formula feeding culture.
This variety of settings and types of support mean that describing volunteers and volunteering is a complex process, and one which is constantly evolving.
There are core principles which must be met when recruiting breastfeeding peer support volunteers. Recruitment must:
- Be a fair process, open to all who meet the definition of peer supporter (as given above).
- Provide clear information to the individual about the role and responsibilities of both the peer and the recruiting organisation.
- Have a screening process which should include an interview, which may be informal and could be online, to ensure that the individual has the potential to meet the requirements of both training and practice. The discussion should include what they hope to achieve from the experience.
- Ensure that the individual be advised of the training required for the post and the time required to complete this. There should also be a conversation about expectations of volunteering time, further training, mentoring and supervision.
- Ensure that following a successful interview the individual provides contact details to enable two references to be taken up.
- Make clear that the individual is aware of the requirement to apply to Disclosure Scotland for a Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) certificate and advised of the circumstances where this could result in a decision not to recruit to this role.
- Advise the individual of the outcome of the recruitment process and direct to other volunteering opportunities when a decision not to recruit has been made.
There should be an induction process to ensure that the volunteers are aware of the measures necessary to protect both themselves and the families in their care. This induction can be delivered in person or through online learning where appropriate. Core learning is listed in Appendix 3.