Breastfeeding Network (BfN) commissioned Blake Stevenson Ltd to undertake a range of activities to support its understanding of its impact and provide a basis for the further development of the organisation and the services it offers. These included the development of models (logic model, theory of change) and evaluation with mums and health professionals.
Evaluation methods – an online survey distributed to mums who had had contact with BfN services gained 203 responses. 26 mums were interviewed by telephone and 12 mums attended focus groups in Kilmarnock and Blackpool. 13 health professionals with experience of BfN services were also interviewed. All of those involved in the evaluation were asked about their experience of BfN services and their impression of peer support as an approach.
Reasons for breastfeeding – whilst practical factors such as cost and convenience were mentioned, the ‘most important reason’ why mums had decided to breastfeed or give their babies breastmilk was that it was ‘good for their baby’s health’. Mums typically identified that what they had liked best about breastfeeding was the bond and unique relationship with their baby which they felt breastfeeding had provided.
How mums heard about BfN – online and social media were the most common ways that mums had heard about BfN support. Signposting by health professionals was another important route. BfN’s direct approach to mums, for example on maternity wards also played a part.
How mums experienced support – the evaluation found that mums received and valued BfN support given in a variety of ways from antenatal contact, support on the maternity ward, text message, one to one home visit, Facebook advice and ongoing involvement at breastfeeding support groups. There was evidence of the value of each of these interventions supporting mums depending on their personal preference or sometimes depending on their emotional state at the time – the value of each form of support could be seen impacting positively on mums’ level of knowledge, confidence or ability to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding challenges – Just over half of mums who had breastfed said that their experience of breastfeeding to date had been good or very good (109, 53%). However a significant minority (81, 40%) described breastfeeding as ‘difficult at first but got better’. Common issues faced which they had asked BfN to support and advise on related to feeding position and attachment for feeding, and painful breasts or nipples as well as wider parenting matters such as baby’s sleep or medication and support to mums in relation to returning to work, meeting other mothers and mental health issues.
The role of peer supporters – the evaluation found that breastfeeding mums greatly appreciate the support of other mums who have breastfed. They valued the understanding and practical guidance they received based on the peer supporters’ personal experience. Peer supporters were also seen to be impartial and to have more time to offer than health professionals. The evaluation established that mums experience BfN’s values in practice as they felt listened to, respected and supported in their choices.
Complementing other support – health and social care professionals highlighted the value of BfN’s peer supporters in complementing their own work and in providing a crucial form of support which was valued and accepted by mothers. They believed that this support enabled mums to sustain breastfeeding for longer and filled a vital gap with a professionally managed service which other forms of current support did not have sufficient resources to fill.
Summary of impacts of BfN support – Mothers reported that support from BfN made them feel
- more confident to breastfeed (128, 63%)
- that they were not on their own (139, 68%)
- happier and more relaxed about breastfeeding (112, 55%)
- more confident about breastfeeding in public (79, 39%).
Impact on overcoming breastfeeding challenges – during the evaluation mothers recalled specific challenging experiences, often very early in their breastfeeding journey, which they believed would have ended their breastfeeding, but which they had been solved with information and support from BfN. Therefore the evaluation found that BfN could strongly influence the practical actions of breastfeeding mothers, impacting on their decision-making at challenging times and supporting them to continue.
Impact on duration of breastfeeding – the evaluation found evidence of mums deciding to breastfeed for longer than they had originally intended (in some cases for many months more). BfN support had helped them to reach a new level of understanding about the benefits of breastfeeding babies beyond six months and the example of other breastfeeding mums had given them confidence to continue.
Summary – The activities over the course of this evaluation established BfN’s position within a national and local context and found evidence of a positive and crucial impact on mums and their varied breastfeeding journeys, many of which would have been significantly shorter without BfN support. The evaluation found evidence that mums who need information relating to breastfeeding, who may not be fully positive about breastfeeding, or who lack confidence in breastfeeding, can experience personal change in these areas as a result of BfN services. We found many mums increasing their understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding, feeling listened to and valued, being inspired and encouraged to deal with challenging situations and gaining confidence in breastfeeding. These things enabled them to make choices and be more empowered to breastfeed for as long as they chose.
The evaluation also showed that health professionals, working strategically in communities to support breastfeeding, regard the information and peer support from BfN as complementary to their own work, so much so that they want BfN services to grow to match demand and help them to meet policy intentions in this area of health and wellbeing for mothers and babies.
One of the future challenges for BfN is working with partner organisations to secure resources for peer support to be made available so that mums can be empowered to make choices about feeding.
Please use the below links to view the full report and a video highlighting peer support evaluation