Training to be a Breastfeeding Counsellor

A few weeks ago I was put in touch with the lovely Jessica, a friend of a friend, who is currently training as a breastfeeding counsellor with the NCT.  She is a busy mum of three, but has taken some time out to tell us more about her training and experience.

My name's Jessica. I am mum to three children and am training to be a breastfeeding counsellor.

I have had really good experiences breastfeeding all of my children and never really thought that there could be any problems. Everyone I knew breastfed their kids so I had no understanding about how problematic breastfeeding can be for some people.

However, after I had my first child I was incredibly lonely until I met my dear friend Maya. Our children were born within a few weeks of each other, neither of us knew anyone locally and we soon realised that we were exactly the same age and had tons in common. We became incredibly close and were each other's rocks of support in those early days of motherhood. The only difference was I was breastfeeding and she was bottlefeeding.

When we both got pregnant with our second babies Maya asked me to support her to breastfeed her baby once he was born. I was really touched that she asked me but when he was born she was so brilliant at feeding that other than a nod that the baby was attached to the breast properly and a couple of chats about how breastfeeding works I didn't think I had done anything in particular to support her. Over a year later when we had both weaned our second babies, Maya thanked me for my support and told me that she wouldn't have managed to feed her baby if it hadn't been for my support. For the first time I appreciated how difficult feeding can be and how important it is to have support from women who have breastfed themselves.

So, it was friendship that brought me to the training.

There are several charities that train breastfeeding supporters but I decided to train with the NCT because they offer a diploma qualification and they are a very large charity so have a big reach. They also run antenatal classes, one of which is a breastfeeding class run by a breastfeeding counsellor. This means that soon-to-be parents meet their local counsellor before their baby is born and so have a name and a face to call if they need some extra support in the first days, weeks or even months after birth.

The diploma usually takes about three years to complete and I am just about to start my final year of training. The first part of the course has a heavy emphasis on counselling skills – we are not breastfeeding police! We are available to listen and share information: not to tell people that they must breastfeed. The second part of the training is in group work skills. This part of the course aims to prepare the students for antenatal teaching, supporting at a breastfeeding cafe (or baby cafe) and even for training breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters.

To train to be a breastfeeding counsellor with the NCT a mother has to have breastfed at least one baby for a minimum of six months.

I have really enjoyed my training. It's given me another focus apart from my children. It is a fantastic course as it goes at the pace of the student. We are part of a 'rolling tutorial group'. This means that students train together no matter which stage of the course they are at. I attend a group in the Kent countryside. So once a month I drop my kids at school, hop on the train in inner city London and 40 minutes later I am walking past an idyllic village green complete with duck pond! I enjoy meeting with other women who are as passionate as I am about the importance of breastfeeding and the importance of sharing skills and support in order that more women have a positive experiece breastfeeding their babies.

I hope to have completed the course by July next year and to start running my own baby cafe at my local children's centre. I will also be answering calls for the NCT national helpline and running antenatal sessions. I even hope to be paid for some of the work I do!

Breastfeeding support changes from woman to woman and baby to baby. Everyone's experience is unique. The most important thing is that if you're not sure or you feel it's not working to ask for help.

Problems arise from the fact that we don't live in a culture where breastfeeding is the normal way to feed our babies. We don't see women breastfeeding out and about. And when it's portrayed in the media it's often in a negative light: either that the women who do it are crazy hippies or that it is completely fraught with problems. The more women breastfeed the more normal it becomes and the easier it becomes too.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us, Jessica.  

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