Sherman Hospital’s first group of breastfeeding peer counselors will soon be volunteering their time to support new and expecting mothers.
The Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Training Program, instructed by Sherry Riggs, Lactation Consultant in the Mother-Baby Unit, is the first of its kind at Sherman Hospital. The four-session training program began in November.
According to Riggs, the program emphasizes a three-step counseling process to establish quality relationships with mothers in need of breastfeeding support. In addition, basic anatomy, baby-holding positions and latch techniques to transfer an adequate amount of milk from mother to baby are also taught in the program.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, breastfeeding offers numerous health benefits for both mother and baby. Early breast milk (milk made during pregnancy) contains important nutrients and antibodies to protect a baby from illness such as ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Breast milk is also easier for a baby to digest than formula. Additionally, breast milk may reduce a baby’s risk for type 1 and 2 diabetes, leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome.
For the mother, breastfeeding can be easier than the time-consuming process of preparing formula. It is also a cost-effective alternative to formula and feeding supplies. In addition, breastfeeding facilitates bonding between mother and baby. Breastfeeding may also lower a woman’s risk of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Sherman’s goal for breastfeeding exclusivity is 60 percent. In other words, during a patient’s hospital stay, staff in the Mother-Baby Unit want 60 percent of mothers to exclusively breastfeed with no formula supplementation. As of November 2012, the rate was 58 percent.
The four breastfeeding peer counselors – Kelly Marie Christiansen, Tammy James, Jennica Tait and Jessica Montenegro – will begin hands-on training in December before volunteering in January.
Christiansen says she became involved in the program to give back to Sherman’s breastfeeding support group, which had helped her with breastfeeding difficulties she faced as a new mother.
“Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, I was referred to the breastfeeding support group at Sherman,” Christiansen says. “This program helped me get breastfeeding off to a good start, so I really want to give back to a group that had helped me.”
For James, she says the opportunity to give back to other mothers inspired her to participate in the program. “I feel like I’ve been converted to breastfeeding, and I want everyone in the world to know about it,” she says. “It’s my new mission – I want to spend as much time as possible giving back.”
The breastfeeding peer counselor training program is open to anyone, although the ideal candidate is a mother with experience breastfeeding. Other attributes that Riggs looks for in a peer counselor include being a caring person and strong communicator.
“I think the real catalyst for our breastfeeding peer counselors is that they enjoy breastfeeding and are happy with their decision, despite having difficulties in the beginning,” Riggs says. “I think the opportunity to help others really enticed them to this program.”
For more information on Sherman’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor program, contact Lactation Consultant Sherry Riggs at (224) 783-8041.