Counselors, breastfeeding moms: The A-team
[Writer's note: This article is based on a speech I gave to the Pediatric Society of the Philippines last Aug 5. This 2013, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action's theme for World Breastfeeding Awareness Month is "Breastfeeding Support: Bringing Mothers Close." It has put the spotlight on local Peer Counseling Programs that serve as support systems for mothers. One such organization that offers Peer Counselor Training is LATCH.]
MANILA, Philippines - "Peer counselors embody breastfeeding support. They employ all means necessary to get through to mothers and share with them the gift and the power that is breastfeeding.
"In bringing mothers close, they are asked to give up a part of themselves. In doing so, they are able to see the larger picture to which they belong.
"The role they play is invaluable to society, incomparable and priceless — just like breastmilk."
Breastfeeding isn’t instinctive. It’s a learned skill that requires practice, observation and support. It takes very little to undermine and, eventually, end a breastfeeding relationship. It can be a well-meaning comment here or a doubting question there.
That is what spells the difference between those who persist with breastfeeding and those who don’t even stand a chance.
Why this polarity? Is there a way to lessen this divide? The solution lies in lactation education and peer counseling. This manifesto is the heart and soul of LATCH.
LATCH stands for Lactation, Attachment, Training, Counseling and Help. It’s a group of trained breastfeeding peer counselors offering mother-to-mother support and services to take the guesswork out of breastfeeding.
Recognizing a gap
In 2006, 8 breastfeeding mothers came together and realized that there was a lack of breastfeeding support in society. That time, based on FNRI [Food and Nutrition Research Institute] reports, the exclusive breastfeeding rate for infants below 6 months was less than 35.9% [this is the 2008 figure].
Clearly, the majority of Filipino moms were not breastfeeding.
Yes, there were advocacy groups already in place. Some were militant, some were linked to larger causes and others were grassroots. Instead of replicating these, the co-founders of LATCH felt a need to cater to a certain demographic and have a different approach.
They brought their cause to mainstream media, working with GMA to produce a series of public service announcements [PSAs] that aired in August, World Breastfeeding Month. This was the beginning of a great partnership since it merited more than a dozen short commercials from the period of 2008 until 2010.
For 2011, LATCH tied up with ABS-CBN and worked with Lifestyle Network and Working Mom Magazine. The campaign was called Live Life, Give Life.
Aside from PSAs, they had an 8-page editorial spread and a photo exhibit, which was launched in a culminating event at Rockwell Tent. It all came together thanks to the generous support of friends, family and companies who believed that LATCH and its members embodied the modern breastfeeding mother.
Expanding the support
In 2012, LATCH’s means of reaching out to people changed. The web had become just as influential as [if not more than] TV. In this arena, LATCH's band of mommy bloggers and social media mavens were a tremendous resource to mothers.
Just imagine, in the wee hours of the morning and in the comfort of their homes, mothers were able to have access to relevant information.
This is a MUST in peer counseling: timely and appropriate information. Taking into light the 2013 theme of “Bringing Mothers Close,” it is important to communicate in a medium and manner that breastfeeding mothers can digest.
"Close" is being a text or call away. Moms can even get counseling advice via Skype on their bedside with a tablet, laptop or even smartphone.
Moms in need of breastfeeding support can get encouragement from mommy bloggers who eloquently, candidly and wholeheartedly share their insights and tweets. These can give just enough inspiration to get the moms through one more breastfeeding day.
The heart of LATCH
Virtual connections and communities still cannot replace actual face-to-face interaction, though.
At the center of LATCH’s agenda are its lactation education classes. It is of prime importance to LATCH to offer anticipatory guidance, to empower mothers and to work with doctors.
Regular pre-natal classes are held in the hospital setting where LATCH-ers roll out their unique brand of workshops. A huge part of breastfeeding success is mind-setting, dissecting the values behind the hospital and societal norms, and explaining how breastfeeding is choosing a sustainable life.
LATCH’s classes have become the platform where solid foundations are set.
Then there are home visits or one-on-one counseling. A counselor visits the home of a complete stranger and offers an hour or two of hands-on support in terms of proper positioning and latching the baby.
These are the moments wherein peer counselors are given the chance to truly make a contribution to a family. Figuratively, they become somewhat a lifeline. Literally, they become the voice that urges mothers to love more, the hand that touches and reminds families to cherish what they have.
Peer counselors are the presence that shows mothers that it is possible to succeed at breastfeeding. Peer counselors are the living testimonies that breastfeeding can work and that it is worth every effort to pursue.
Mothers support each other to close the gap
In 2011, breastfeeding rates of infants below 6 months old reached 46.7%. This is an encouraging statistic. All the breastfeeding groups [including LATCH] as well as government and health center programs have contributed to this.
It’s all about bringing mothers close to each other. Wherever mothers are given support and wherever they support each other, there is a big chance that they will succeed in breastfeeding.
Here in the Philippines where no one is paid to promote, support and protect breastfeeding, it is vital that groups like LATCH stand for the empowerment of mothers.
It is the mothers, after all, who hold the future of the Philippines in their hands. - Rappler.com
Mom with newborn photo from Shutterstock
Before Breastfeeding Month ends, catch Dr. Jack Newman speak live in Manila. While this symposium is geared towards health professionals, anyone who is interested in learning from the "Father of Breastfeeding" is welcome to attend. For more information, visit the LATCH Facebook page.
Buding Aquino-Dee is the president and co-founder of LATCH. She is a mother of 3 children and is married to her high school sweetheart.