Here’s a quick quiz…
1. Do you find a woman breastfeeding in public puts you off your coffee because…
(a) It’s a bit awkward
(b) You sit there wondering whether she’d mind if you went up to her and congratulated her for feeding in a café
(and after much deliberation you eventually decide on the ‘warm smile/ thumbs up’ combo)
If you answered ‘a’, this is probably not the article for you.
2. Can your facebook wall easily display photos of the breasts of five different women from two different continents in one week?
3. Does your partner mention to pregnant strangers that they might want to talk to you about breastfeeding?
4. Does your mum save newspaper clippings of articles on breastfeeding? (when you actually heard about the article two weeks ago and have already have three online discussions about it)
5. Do you wish everyone could breastfeed for as long as they want to and you get frustrated when you hear that doesn’t always happen?
This may be the article for you then.
Becoming a breastfeeding counsellor in the UK is fundamentally about volunteering your time to help mothers to reach their own breastfeeding goals. You will need to be able to empathise, offer emotional support and information. You will need to appreciate that not all breastfeeding mothers look the same or make the same choices. You will not be offering ‘advice’ but empowering mums (and their partners) to make their own decisions.
It is immensely important and rewarding work and breastfeeding counsellors are desperately needed.
It's worth noting that this is not going to be a new career path for most people who train as a breastfeeding counsellor. If you train as an NCT practitioner, you may be able to make a career out of it. There are also some paid breastfeeding support roles available in some parts of the country depending on projects in your area, but these are few and far between.
What is for sure is that the skills you learn, the experiences you have, the people you meet will make this worthwhile – both in a ‘future employment’ sense and a wider life-changing sense.
There are four main organisations you can train with in the UK. There are some things different about the training (cost, location, philosophy of the organisations).
There are some things that are the same about all of them:
You’ll be focusing on the needs of the mother and baby and putting your personal experiences to one side whenever possible.
You will use good listening skills to support mums and their families.
You will be expected to provide evidence-based information – that means information based on science, research and best practice. You won’t be giving personal opinions.
You’ll be working as a team with other people supporting the mum. You may refer to GPs or health visitors or midwives. Breastfeeding counsellors don’t work in isolation and are great at sign-posting to other services.
You’ll get on-going training and supervision to help you in your role.
Here’s how you can go about getting trained:
If you want to train with the NCT, you have a couple of options. You can take the paid option to become a self-employed NCT practitioner. http://www.nct.org.uk/nct-college/work-opportunities#level5 NCT BFCs may take sessions of antenatal classes, run support groups and work on the NCT helpline. The course costs approximately £6,500 and takes two years to complete. It can be done in less time if you study full-time. There are some bursaries available. You study for a foundation degree with the University of Worcester and take the ‘breastfeeding pathway’. You start with the essentials course to become a ‘birth and beyond practitioner’ and then go onto do the breastfeeding specialism. You will need to have breastfed one child for at least six months. The breastfeeding pathway consists of 3 modules (counselling skills, applying counselling skills, understanding women’s experiences of breastfeeding): each requiring 2 study days and 5 tutorials. Some of the study days will be at the University of Worcester and some arranged in a more local area depending on numbers of students. The course will include writing a 3000 word essay, short answer questions, tutor group discussions and a range of learning experiences.
You can also qualify as a VOLUNTEER NCT breastfeeding counsellor: http://www.nct.org.uk/nct-college/course-options/nct-voluntary-role-breastfeeding-counsellor-training. You need to have breastfed for a minimum of six months before you apply. The training costs £625 rather than £6500. It still takes a couple of years and is spread over 15 tutorials and study days. Again locations vary but some sessions will be at the University of Worcester. Babes-in-arms can come to study days and you can bring an older breastfeeding child too provided you also bring an extra carer for them. Volunteer counsellors support mothers without receiving payment and may support at drop-in groups and throughout their local community.
If you train with La Leche League, you’ll be called a La Leche League leader rather than a breastfeeding counsellor: https://www.laleche.org.uk/content/thinking-about-lll-leadership.
It’s a good idea to read the La Leche League book, 'The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding' (which is a good read for anyone interested in breastfeeding) and familiarise yourself with the ten concepts that are important to La Leche League. That’s not to say a La Leche League leader wouldn’t support any breastfeeding mother whatever her parenting views but just that the La Leche League is underpinned by a philosophy that will shape your appreciation of the mother/ child relationship and all leaders will share: https://www.laleche.org.uk/sites/default/files/LAD%20Brochure%20final%20Jan%202011.pdf
You should also find out if there are La Leche League meetings local to you and attend some.
You’ll be expected to have breastfed for at least nine months. Many leaders train with an established leader at an established meeting but if you don’t have one close enough to you, there are other ways of doing it. The training is a combination of face-to-face and written work and can take two years depending on your pace. The pace will be very individual to you and might depend on things like the age of your children. You can find out the current fees by contacting LLLGB.
La Leche League leaders will usually support at a local meeting (they may share running a meeting with other leaders) and can also support on the LLL helpline.
You can also become a breastfeeding supporter with the Breastfeeding Network. That’s their word for a breastfeeding counsellor equivalent – not to be confused with ‘peer supporters’ from other organisations who will have done a shorter course. Training happens locally and is face-to-face: http://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/get-involved/train-to-be-a-registered-volunteer/
Opportunities depend on funding and what is available in your local area. This is what is currently available: http://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/get-involved/train-to-be-a-registered-volunteer/areas-where-we-are-able-to-provide-some-training/
You will not have to pay any training fees. You start by training as a breastfeeding HELPER and then you can go on to do the supporter training if it’s available. Helper training consists of 12 two-hour sessions and babes-in-arms are welcome. Supporter training usually takes approximately two years to complete. The expectation is you will volunteer for the BfN after your training by offering face-to-face support at groups or on the BfN helpline or National Breastfeeding Helpline (phone or webchat). The training will often take place in tutors’ homes and consists of written and oral work.
The last charity you can train with is the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. Like the Breastfeeding Network, you start with the first level course (which the ABM calls ‘Mother Supporter’ course) and then you can go on to train to become a breastfeeding counsellor which takes approximately 18 months to two years. http://abm.me.uk/about-the-abm/training-with-the-association-of-breastfeeding-mothers/
You need to have breastfed for a minimum of six months before you apply. The course costs £100 and you also have to be a member of the ABM. It is then expected that counsellors volunteer on the helpline for a minimum of two years after training. The ABM helps run the National Breastfeeding Helpline with the BfN and have their own helpline. Many ABM counsellors also support in their local community. The ABM training is a distance learning programme. This means that you submit written modules and communicate with tutors via email and phone and through online discussion. There are some practical activities such as observations and practise phone calls and you are required to attend one study day a year. The advantage to a home study course is that you don’t have to leave young children and the training can happen anywhere. However it is not a learning style that works for everyone and requires independent organisation and reading at home. There are eight additional modules after the initial Mother Supporter course has been completed.
So those are your options. If you read those descriptions and felt excitement and anticipation, this may be a path for you. If you read them and thought, ‘that sounds like a tremendous hassle’ – perhaps not.
There are other ways you can support mothers depending on your passion and your experience:
You may be interested in becoming a doula (breastfeeding support is often part of a doula's role too): http://doula.org.uk/content/becoming-doula
Or perhaps training to become a home start volunteer:
Or volunteering for a charity like Bliss: http://www.bliss.org.uk/get-involved/ or PANDAS, who help mums with depression:
On Twitter and Facebook, you’ll find counsellors and trainers from all of these organisations who I’m sure will be happy to answer any of your questions.
If you have the time and the inclination, you can make an incredible difference to the lives of new mums and babies. Your commitment is desperately needed.
Information accurate as of November 2014. Check website links for current updates.