ABM Mother Supporter
A Mother Supporter is a mum who has breastfed her own baby. She might have had to overcome breastfeeding problems herself and is keen to support other mums. She has completed a home study module with the ABM and continues to be an ABM member. She updates her knowledge by reading the ABM magazine and through our online discussions.
A Mother Supporter will not “solve” your breastfeeding problems. Nor should she offer counselling. Her role is to offer you support as a “well informed friend” to enable you to make your own decisions and she should be able to point you in the right direction if you do need more specialist help. A Mother Supporter is not insured to solve breastfeeding problems.
A Breastfeeding Helper with the Breastfeeding Network is their equivalent of the ABM’s Mother Supporter qualification.
ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor
A Breastfeeding Counsellor must first qualify as a Mother Supporter. She will have breastfed for a minimum of six months – though not necessarily without problems. After her Mother Supporter training, she will undertake in-depth counsellor training which includes: anatomy of the breast; physiology of breastfeeding; benefits of breastfeeding for mother, baby, family and society as a whole; positioning and attachment; expressing and storing breastmilk; breastfeeding and returning to work; postnatal depression; breastfeeding twins and other multiples; breastfeeding difficulties for mums and babies; introducing solids, weaning and night time feeding; premature babies; relactation; breastfeeding in special circumstances; breastfeeding an older baby and a toddler; drugs and medications; counselling skills; ethics and confidentiality. She will be expected to keep her breastfeeding knowledge up-to-date by undertaking yearly updates.
A Breastfeeding Counsellor does not offer advice. Her role is to guide a mum in decision-making or help her solve her breastfeeding difficulties by offering up-to-date and Baby Friendly Initiative compliant information. She may offer a “listening ear” to mums who need just that. Breastfeeding Counsellors answer calls to breastfeeding helplines and often run breastfeeding support groups. They do not get paid for this work and usually answer the calls from their homes.
Other breastfeeding organisations have equivalents of the ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor qualification:
The NCT have Breastfeeding Counsellors. This is how the NCT describes their role: “An NCT BFC uses person-centred counselling skills to support new families, primarily mothers, and she has a deep knowledge of normal infant feeding behaviours plus a full understanding of the physiology of breastfeeding, and the cultural, social and emotional context in which feeding takes place.”
The Breastfeeding Network call their counsellors Breastfeeding Supporters. They are equivalent to NCT and ABM Breastfeeding Counsellors and shouldn’t be confused with ’Peer Supporters’.
La Leche League have La Leche League Leaders. A LLLL must have breastfed for at least 9 months when she applies for training. La Leche League Leaders will usually run a meeting for La Leche League and can also support mothers through the LLL phone line, home visits or via email.
The four main charities are the ONLY recognised training providers in the UK. There are alternative online training courses which misleadingly claim to offer the same qualification but these inferior courses are short and give just a basic level of breastfeeding knowledge. Proper counsellor training can take 2-3 years depending on the organisation you train with. It’s essential to make sure your Breastfeeding Counsellor has a qualification from either: the ABM, the BfN, the NCT or LLL. That way you’ll be reassured that you’re getting fully trained and insured help.
Although the term lactation consultant is sometimes loosely and inaccurately given to anyone who works with breastfeeding mums (either as a volunteer or as a professional) only an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is recognised to have met the strict selection criteria and has successfully passed an exam set by the International Board of Lactation Consultants Examiners (IBLCE). IBCLCs adhere to a Code of Ethics and work according to Professional Standards of Practice.
A Lactation Consultant is a health professional or an individual who has previously trained as a Breastfeeding Counsellor and has extensive experience in supporting mothers. It is not required that they have breastfed their own baby and men can also be lactation consultants. She/he must have undertaken further study in the field of lactation and use this knowledge along with their own acquired skills.
Every five years, a Lactation Consultant has to renew their IBCLC certification to ensure their continuing competence. Many IBCLCs work for local health authorities while some work privately running support groups or offering one-to-one support for mothers. Although some are volunteers, there is usually a charge to see a Lactation Consultant privately, so it’s always best to check first.
Regardless of the qualification, all breastfeeding training should be compliant with UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI).
Breastfeeding Peer Supporter
A Peer Supporter might train with one of the four main charities (ABM, BfN, NCT, LLL). The training course may be up to 12 weeks long and include: basics of breastfeeding (anatomy, physiology), social and economic issues, the needs of the breastfeeding baby and toddler and communication skills. She will learn about the main national and international organisations that are involved with promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Peer Supporters are sometimes employed by children’s centres or by the NHS. They can make home visits as well as work in hospitals, children’s centres or alongside health visitors and midwives.
The role of a Peer Supporter is the protection and promotion of breastfeeding in their local area and, like Mother Supporters, to support a breastfeeding mother to make her own decisions and solve her own problems. A Peer Supporter should not offer “advice”, problem solving or even counselling and should be able to point you in the right direction if you do need more specialist help.
Breastfeeding Support Worker, Breastfeeding Buddy, Peer Counsellors, Breastfeeding Consultant
There are many other titles that are used by those supporting breastfeeding. A Breastfeeding Support Worker may be a Peer Supporter with 12 weeks training or an IBCLC with many years of training and experience.
UNICEF offer a three day training course in breastfeeding management which may have been taken by someone who supports you.
Somebody calling themselves an Infant Feeding Specialist may be a midwife with additional breastfeeding training and extensive experience or it could be someone choosing to use the term with very little training.
There is a huge variation. Just because someone is being paid, it does not mean that they will automatically be better trained or know more than a volunteer. There is also a difference in the terms used depending on where you live. In some areas, a Peer Supporter may be a volunteer mum with 4 months breastfeeding experience who has received a few hours of training. In other areas they may be someone in a paid position with regular training opportunities and supervision.
If someone really cares about breastfeeding, they will never mind if you ask them more about their training. Only an IBCLC is a protected term, anyone else can call themselves what they like so ask which organisation they trained with.
A good breastfeeding supporter should provide information that is evidence and research-based, empower a mother to make her own decisions and support her goals, and know her own professional limits. She should know who else to refer a mother onto if the mother’s problems are beyond her experience and feel comfortable admitting when she doesn’t know something.
Based on an idea by Charlotte Young IBCLC