14 Apr

National Breastfeeding Helpline Update

We are always super busy on the National Breastfeeding Helpline but 2020 has been unlike anything we’ve seen before! In January and February we were already answering more calls than usual and then March hit us….

Our amazing volunteers (all trained and supported by BfN and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers) had already upped their game in 2019 – we answered nearly 10% more calls last year than we did in 2018. 2019 was a record-breaking year in many ways – receiving more calls, answering more web chats and supporting more families via social media messages than in any other year before. 

Our fabulous volunteers listened and supported on the phone for 2798 hours during the year – that’s the equivalent of more than 116 full days! (and that doesn’t include all the time given on web chats and social media, or while waiting for calls to come through either)  More than 12,000 families were directly supported across the helplines, language lines, web chat and social media. Such an amazing achievement.

So to 2020, and after our record breaking January and February, as March approached, we thought maybe, just maybe, March 2020 could be the month where we got every single volunteer to log on and take a call, and we gave ourselves an ambitious but achievable calls answered target to reach. It would require all our volunteers to give a little bit extra.

The beginning of March was busy, but not that out of the ordinary.  Volunteers were doing a brilliant job as always and we were answering more calls than usual. Then suddenly everything changed when Coronavirus hit the UK – people started isolating at home, healthcare professionals more overstretched than ever, breastfeeding drop in and antenatal groups forced to close, new mums being discharged from hospitals even more quickly than before…. And the NBH volunteers really stepped up! 

Since around the 12th March, there’s hardly been a day when the service hasn’t had 100% coverage on the helpline – 5 or 6 volunteers are often logged in at once. The team have answered almost every single call first time, and for the first time ever a voicemail option for callers has been introduced, so even if they can’t get through, they can leave a message and one of the newly recruited NBH Voicemail team will return their call as soon as possible. The service has also increased our web chat availability, social media responses and increased the amount of remote supervision that’s available. 

Needless to say, the team SMASHED target we set ourselves and answered more calls in a month than we ever have before. They also spent longer on the phone listening and supporting.  And all of this amazing support for the helpline has happened at the same time as (like everyone) volunteers have faced challenges – unknowns about their paid work, worries about relatives and family and their own health, have had to fit in home education for their kids alongside their jobs….  

We are completely in awe of and humbled by what the volunteers are doing on the helpline at the moment and cannot thank them enough for their hard work. They are providing such a vital service to families all over the UK, and they are just quietly getting on with it. 

A huge and heartfelt thank you to each and every one of them. 

Felicity Lambert, NBH Manager and Caroline Bolton, ABM Helpline Manager 

The National Breastfeeding Helpline is run in partnership between the BfN and the ABM. The initiative is funded by PHE and the Scottish Government. All calls are answered by trained volunteers, working in their own homes, using a virtual call centre. The helpline offers evidence based, non judgmental, friendly information, reassurance and support and is open every day of the year from 9.30am-9.30pm on 0300 100 0212. Support is available in Welsh and Polish on the same number.

www.facebook.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline

www.twitter.com/NBHelpline 

www.instagram.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline 

11 Apr

What BfN means to me.

By Kirstin Worsley – Scottish PfG Project Manager

To be honest, until about 4 years ago, when asked what BfN was, I would have said it was where you went to print resources about thrush and mastitis to use in training new mums to become Peer Supporters (oh and I knew there was a helpline, because I had called it once).

Going back a bit, about 20 years ago and after the birth of my third child, I realised that breastfeeding was NOT easy, it wasn’t something babies just did and it definitely could hurt to the point of feeling that my nipples were about to fall off.

In that moment, when someone suggested I train as a Peer Supporter I thought, like many of us do, that if I could just help one other mum to feel better about feeding, to reduce her pain and help her to find a way to give her baby what she had thought about hen she was pregnant, then that would be fine. 

Move on 15 years from that point and a house move and I was training with UNICEF Baby Friendly and helping more women in my part of the world to continue their feeding journey.

Then, one day about 9 years ago, someone actually offered me a job where I would get money to train mums to be peer supporters (my husband’s words were “you can actually get paid to do this sort of thing??!!”) and since then it has become the biggest passion of my life, filling every day with something breastfeeding related, although of course my family are still my total world.

So, when my manager received a call from Sarah Edwards, 4 years ago, asking if there was anyone who would be interested in training to take calls on the National Helpline, I did a bit of real research about the organisation, discovered it had become so much more than a leaflet about mastitis and decided to “give it a go”.

Roll on 4 years, and I am now taking calls and answering webchat and social media messages to my heart’s content. I love listening to a woman, sometimes with tears in her eyes and helping her to work through her thoughts and fears and come to a point where she feels able to move forward with her feeding (or have a plan to stop, if that was her reason for calling).

In the meantime, I carried on with my “day job” training peer supporters and looking after a troop of volunteers in the Scottish Borders. ( I don’t manage volunteers, they tend to be the ones keeping me on the right track!).

But then…..the Scottish Government decided to fund the implementation of breastfeeding support as a national project and this is when BfN became an even bigger part of my life as I became the Scottish Project Lead. So, now, not only do I still talk and message wonderful families on the Helpline but I also get to see support appearing in new areas across Scotland and meet lots of wonderful mums who are training to become new supporters of mums in their communities. BfN are giving me so many new opportunities.

The supporters, supervisor and tutor courses have given me the chance to make connections with other BfN people across the country and at this point I send a big ‘HI!’ to you all!

If I had to put it into words, what BfN means to me, it is “family, team effort and determination”. I know it can be hard, funding is always an issue, mums always seem to be receiving less care than they deserve or the staff around them are able to give, despite their best efforts, and we sometimes feel that we are only a tiny fish in a big puddle. However, if a younger me had told me I would one day be working for the organisation that I had called 20 years ago, I am not entirely sure I would have believed them and yet, here I am.

So, believe in yourselves, you can do this, you are doing it and you are all absolutely fantastic!

07 Apr

Coronavirus update from BfN’s CEO

I was heartened to receive a tweet in the last week which read ‘the rest of the world has finally caught up with the way @NBHelpline and @BfN_Uk volunteers have been working for years! #Remoteworking’

BfN_CEO

It was in response to an image shared of our volunteers’ home work stations – places they shared where they take calls from mothers calling the National Breastfeeding Helpline. While I know not all of our volunteering and commissioned work is provided remotely, never more than now have I been thankful for BfN’s strong helpline and telephony skills, our vibrant online community of peer supporters, our established working from home culture and broad volunteer base that branches out across the whole of the UK – just the strength we have needed to call on during this pandemic.

It’s now more important than ever that we stay connected to each other, not only because sharing knowledge will help us plan and learn but because while stabilising immediate support for women and families we can also stay in touch about how we navigate the future.

All our lives have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus crisis – some of us may be finding ourselves closer to loved ones in our isolation, others may feel lost without the routine of social interaction. Without a doubt mothers looking for breastfeeding support will find their usual services drastically cut back or gone, they will find their feelings of worry and of being overwhelmed heightened as health care professionals struggle to meet demand. This is why at the Breastfeeding Network our immediate priority has been to stabilise our offer of remote support across our helplines and in communities by offering digital alternatives. In tandem we have been working with partners including – Scottish Government, Public Health England, NHS and with other third sector partners on sharing resources that will be a vital support line for women and families for many months to come.   

Responding to the crisis

I want to highlight a few things we have done to respond to the crisis – for mothers and families, for peer supporters – volunteers and paid staff, for our tutors and supervisors and for healthcare professionals in the front line or responding to the virus.

For mothers and families – we have strengthened the National Breastfeeding Helpline offer and secured additional resourcing in England. Against the usual opening hours, we have appealed to volunteers to help us respond to all calls, added in a voicemail option so any missed calls can be returned and we are doubling our remote supervision for volunteers. There is dedicated social media support that extends to enquiries on BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service. At time of writing we are answering close to 100% of all calls to the helpline. I am so inspired and proud of what our volunteers on NBH have been able to achieve working with our sister organisation – Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the strength of this long held partnership has been a rock of support.

With a lack of consistent reliable information being an often quoted issue from Mothers we knew that we had to develop our online resources for women and families in response to the crisis. A small team of writers mobilised quickly to develop FAQ’s that can be found here.  Content evolves in response to enquiries from the helpline and on social media and is quickly updated online.

In addition, third sector organisations working in infant feeding have come together to highlight the support that women and families can access during this time. The collaboration and generous offer of the third sector has been impressive, our combined effort can be found here.

When the Government moved from ‘manage’ to ‘contain’, it was with a heavy heart that we suspended our face to face support services including community drop-ins, training, events and home visits. Only exceptionally is face to face work continuing under the strictest of arrangements, only at the request of the local authority area or health board. It’s absolutely the right thing to do as the safety of our staff and volunteers comes first. Some of our volunteers are pregnant and with few exceptions have dependents on whom good health will be relied upon so we take this very seriously. Areas supported by a small central team are stabilising services locally through offering digital support and the charity has purchased Zoom licences to enable this to happen. Project areas are reporting that they are trialling helper training, supervision get-togethers, local team meetings and even 1-1 support with Mothers. We are learning fast and will look to test our digital capacity even further as we plan to hold our May BfN Directors’ Meeting by Zoom – strengthening our digital service offer is going to be an item of strategic importance.

We have a big network of volunteers and staff and communicating well, under pressure and accurately has called for a lot of focus. We are a small central team with contracted support on law and finance. We have managed to achieve a series of well-timed and high quality briefings that have included guidance on HR, IT, safeguarding, upskilling tools and tips on coping in isolation and remote working.  We are working hard to fast-track our online training offer and support our tutors and supervisors to feel able to offer tutoring over online means.

How we are supporting our healthcare professionals

Within a week of the social distancing measures coming in, BfN were invited to be part of the conversation with Government about what the voluntary sector can do to support the NHS. This conversation was held in the very real context that up to 30% of the NHS workforce will be undermined by the Coronavirus. Today with other organisations we submitted our collective response with the honest hope that third sector might get recognised as a vital part of society.

We are asking Governments in Scotland and England to help us raise even more awareness of the NBH, our online resources and of BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service. These services directly support midwives and health visitors on the frontline of the healthcare response and many of these services do not rely on NHS staff. In project areas peer supporters are offering support remotely in their communities – maintaining a vital presence that health care professionals can call upon.

The longer term impact of the Coronavirus is still to be calculated but while it takes its toll on our relationships and erodes our traditional ways of communicating, social distancing is also offering us a choice, a choice to be curtailed by the measures or to be connected differently. There are concerns in the dash for digital – real concerns about inequalities and inclusion as well as our human rights like privacy. For now, our priority is to stabilise support and ensure that our combined efforts support mothers as well as possible while also looking after ourselves.

Heartfelt thanks to you all for your courage and commitment to supporting women and families and breastfeeding. You are a true inspiration!

Best Wishes

Shereen