Breastfeeding peer support core principles for volunteering in Scotland: guidance

This is a quality standard framework for health boards and third sector organisations to apply to their peer support services.

Core Principles - Education and Supervision

Education, mentorship and ongoing supervision are key to ensuring a safe, effective volunteer workforce who feel confident and competent to provide mums with evidence-based practical infant feeding support.

Core curriculum

This core curriculum is designed to deliver all aspects of the peer support role. The full programme can be accessed in Appendix 4. The main topics are:

  • Communication skills
  • Antenatal preparation for breastfeeding
  • Understanding Unicef Baby Friendly Standards
  • Understanding how breastfeeding works
  • Getting breastfeeding off to a good start
  • Understanding common breastfeeding challenges
  • Formula feeding
  • Safer Sleep
  • Stopping breastfeeding
  • Breastfeeding out and about
  • Breastfeeding and return to work
  • Infant feeding skills
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and World Health Organization International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (WHO Code)


Mentorship is an important bridge from education to practice and should form a part of the volunteering experience. Mentoring is a 1:1 relationship in which an individual is given the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and assistance of a more experienced person in a supportive and encouraging environment to increase their confidence and develop their potential. The mentor will be responsible for signing the newly developed Infant Feeding Skills Workbook, which contains a practical skills review, or accepted equivalent, to record that the volunteer has met the required level for practice. The organisation can decide how this is completed, but there should be a process for ensuring that the volunteer meets the required standard. It is acknowledged that the mentoring process will vary in length of time from one volunteer to another and the mentor holds responsibility for the decision to register the volunteer as competent.

Role of the mentor

A mentor can become many different things to the mentee – a friend, an advisor, a coach, a motivator, a buddy. In some organisations the word 'mentor' may not be used, it may be tutor or volunteer coordinator. Whatever they are called, the role is to provide a listening ear which allows the mentee to explore their thoughts, feelings, aspirations and develop their learning at a pace and style that is personal to them.

Being a mentor calls on key skills and the mentor will model evidence-based practice and good behaviours within infant feeding. They can demonstrate excellent communication skills, showing strength-based compassionate, person-centred care and supportive challenge. They will be non-judgemental, non-critical, empathetic and respectful and maintain confidentiality. Tools may be used to facilitate this process, allowing the mentor to sign off on competencies achieved and those which require further development. The Infant Feeding Skills workbook, or accepted equivalent, should be used. Peer supporters bring differing skills to the role initially, therefore becoming a mentor is not a decision based on time providing peer support; this needs to be about knowledge, skills and experience an individual can bring to the role.

It is recognised that there may be occasions when the mentoring relationship breaks down or the mentee is not progressing in adapting theory to practice. The mentor and mentee should discuss the difficulties being experienced and engage another senior member of the team in this process. Where the issue is the relationship, the mentee may request an alternative mentor and/or the mentor may request this change. Where there is an issue of conduct or capability of mentee, a plan should be made to address the issues and timescales for improvement agreed. At the end of this time a decision should be made to allow the volunteer to progress, with or without further support, or for the volunteer to leave the process.


Ongoing supervision is required to ensure that the volunteer continues to develop their knowledge and skills in a supportive environment. An integrated approach to supervision considers three separate aspects: Management, Education and Reflective practice. The mentor may sign off competencies of a peer supporter and then take on the supervisor role, or this may be a different person. Supervision should include an annual review of practical skills to ensure that good practice continues; this can be done on an individual basis or in small groups.

Definition of Supervision

Supervision may be described as; What happens when people who work in the helping professions make a formal arrangement to think with another or others about their work with a view to providing the best possible service to clients, and enhancing their own personal and professional development (Scaife 2001). Reflective practice, thinking about or reflecting on what you do, or have done, and is a focus for those providing support to families.

Definition of reflective practice

Defined as 'learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and practice' (Finlay, 2008). For some this might be called debriefing, allowing for discussion of experiences; to aid learning and also to help deal with those that are difficult. Any experiences that have resulted in anxiety or distress should be discussed and peer supporters advised where to seek further support when required.

Responsibilities of supervisor and supervisee

  • The role of the volunteer is to attend supervision meetings and commit to the process. It is helpful to prepare for the sessions and to bring experiences or questions for discussion.
  • The supervisor is responsible for arranging sessions, ensuring minimum attendance and for supporting the volunteer to explore experiences and to learn from them.

Records of supervision

  • As a minimum standard, supervision should be planned with the volunteer and dates of supervision sessions recorded. This should ensure that that the minimum level of supervision is provided to all volunteers.
  • Notes of the general discussion are at the discretion of the supervisor. However, discussions with the potential to lead to discussions about capability and the need for retraining or about concern for the physical or mental health and wellbeing of the supervisee should be recorded.
  • Any reports or concerns about the peer supporter failing to deliver support that is not in line with organisational values should be discussed and recorded. The individual should be reminded about boundaries and behaviours expected from these values and the consequences of any further lapse.

Frequency of supervision

  • The supervisor should make contact with the volunteer once a month and this can be by telephone, text or email.
  • There should be a minimum of quarterly supervision meetings, these can be in person or online.
  • Supervision can be group or individual sessions depending on the reason for meeting. However, the volunteer should be able to access an individual session on request.
  • The volunteer should have the ability to contact the supervisor outwith these times should they need support and there should be a system in place for this.
  • Failure to attend minimum levels of supervision for the organisation without agreement from the supervisor will result in suspension of the volunteer role. This may be returned following agreement for future supervision.



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