This is the 30th in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.
In the last two posts I’ve written about Booby Traps™ related to race and culture in the hospital. I thought I’d close out this theme with a post about one proven strategy for overcoming these barriers.
The Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride program, a unique partnership between the Hispanic Health Council and Hartford Hospital (with research support provided by the University of Connecticut) shows that peer support can make a big difference in helping moms meet their breastfeeding goals.
Through this program, mothers delivering at Hartford Hospital (a Baby Friendly Hospital) get prenatal, in-hospital, and at-home support from trained peer counselors from the same community who have successfully breastfed. Since the majority of the mothers participating in the program are of Puerto Rican background and many speak Spanish, the peer counselors reflect this background.
When the University of Connecticut conducted a randomized, controlled study to assess the effects of this program, here’s what they found:
The mothers participating in the study were 81% Hispanic (predominately Puerto Rican) and 92% were WIC participants. Mothers who didn’t receive peer counseling support initiated breastfeeding the rate of 76%, but moms who did get the support initiated at the rate of 91%. Even more dramatic, the moms who got this support were 15 times more likely to breastfeed exclusively for three months than those who didn’t.
While this program began as a grant-funded project, it has been so successful that peer counselors are now regular staff members at the hospital. The program is recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a best practice model and has been replicated elsewhere in the state.
Other research points confirms the power of peer counseling. A meta-analysis of breastfeeding interventions found that peer counselors are particularly good at helping moms maintain exclusive breastfeeding.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s no question that getting good, short term help in the hospital from a lactation consultant in the early days or weeks can make or break breastfeeding, but to continue for months and months – especially to continue exclusive breastfeeding – it really matters what your peers are doing. After all, you don’t live with your lactation consultant, or see her every day in your neighborhood or at work or at the mall. But your family and friends are a part of your daily life, and like it or not, what they do and say matters.
Here’s one way to think about it: Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. You go to your doctor’s office and come home with a plan and a lot of enthusiasm. For a few weeks you’re on the wagon – eating right and exercising. But then you start to notice that everyone around you – your friends, your colleagues, your family – is doing just the opposite. Sure, you can still remember that doctor’s visit, but after a while you start to feel a little like a freak.
Wouldn’t it mean a lot to have phone support and weekly visits from a mom who had tried to lose weight – and succeeded? Even better, what if she were a lot like you – a mom from the same background who (literally or metaphorically) spoke your language?
That’s the power of ‘moms like me’ in beating the Booby Traps. It’s not the only solution to the Booby Traps related to race and culture, but it’s a proven strategy that has served many women well.
Did you get support from a peer counselor? How did if affect your breastfeeding experience?