During pregnancy and the year after birth (the ‘perinatal period’), women can be affected by a range of mental health problems. These can be devastating and have a significant impact on women and their families at an important life stage. It is important that any professionals and volunteers working with women during the perinatal period – whatever their primary role – understand the risks of perinatal mental health problems; how to identify symptoms or risk factors and respond appropriately. This is particularly important for professionals and volunteers who support infant feeding, who work with women – building trusting relationships and providing emotional support – at some of their most vulnerable moments.
This competency framework sets out the knowledge, skills and support that professionals and volunteers who support infant feeding should develop around perinatal and infant mental health, including:
- Understanding perinatal and infant mental health and their relationship with infant feeding.
- Understanding how to empower individual women to make and achieve the feeding choices that are best for them (taking account of their mental health).
- The ability to support women – wherever they are in their feeding journey – in a way that protects and promotes their, and their babies’ mental health.
The framework describes competencies for practitioners to work towards. It does not specify the nature of training and development opportunities required to deliver these competencies. These will vary depending on the professionals’ prior experience and skills, the nature of their role and the context in which they work. We hope it will provide a useful tool to support commissioner and provider organisations, trainers, managers, professionals and volunteers themselves to consider what more might be done through infant feeding services to support the mental health of new mothers and their babies.
The Breastfeeding Network has been pleased to work with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (Mums and Babies in Mind Project), Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, NHS Foundation Trust for Central and North West London, NCT, Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, Manorgardens and Swansea University in the development of this framework.