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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Campbell

Who can help with breastfeeding?

Updated: May 30, 2022

There are so many people we come across as new parents who we hope will be able to help us feed our babies, it’s dizzying. Here’s a run down of who we might come across and what breastfeeding training they generally have.

Maternity Support Workers/Child Development Workers:

Most of these will not have had specific breastfeeding training. Some trusts provide peer support training.

Peer supporters: These are the backbone of breastfeeding support in the UK. You can find peer supporters in a variety of places – on hospital wards, at baby cafes, breastfeeding groups. Peer supporters are non health professionals. They are most often mums who have breastfed their babies and received 12-35 hours of training around how breastfeeding works. They can help with common problems, provide a listening ear and signpost you on to more skilled help if required.

Midwives and Health Visitors: This varies hugely. Some midwives are absolute experts, others will have had the three day basic UNICEF Baby Friendly training, which is roughly equivalent to a peer supporter. Midwives have to have a great breadth of knowledge, so not all specialise in all aspects.

Breastfeeding Counsellors: These are trained by the breastfeeding charities in the UK, and may have slightly different names: all have roughly equivalent training and remit. They study breastfeeding in depth for around two years, and use their skills to run support groups, helplines, and train others. They can help with most breastfeeding problems. NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors go through a formal university course and are paid for some of their work. ABM Breastfeeding Counsellors do a two year distance learning course and work on a voluntary basis. La Leche League Leaders are trained directly by another leader over about two years of face to face sessions, and provide voluntary support. BfN Breastfeeding Supporters are trained face to face in small group sessions. They have a mixture of voluntary and paid roles.

IBCLCs: This is the highest level of qualification in breastfeeding support. An IBCLC has passed 14 university level courses, had at least 1000 hours of clinical experience and passed a rigorous international exam. They have to keep up to date, re-certifying every five years. IBCLCs can support with the most complex breastfeeding problems. They may be employed within the NHS or work privately. Most IBCLCs in the UK can be found here:

GPs/Paediatricians: Surprisingly, most doctors receive just one hour of training on breastfeeding while still at university, limited to problems like mastitis, thrush and abscesses – it’s the medical issues around feeding rather than breastfeeding itself. They are unlikely to have the skills to manage common breastfeeding problems. This is improving, and many universities are changing their programmes, including using UNICEF baby friendly training, but it’s worth remembering that they aren’t breastfeeding specialists.

Other titles: Anyone can call themselves a maternity nurse, infant feeding coach, breastfeeding consultant, or other similar titles. They don’t guarantee any level of training at all, so it’s hit or miss whether they have the skills to help you.

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