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Peer Counselor Programs: Who, What and Why?

Kathy Baker, Training Administrator
LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 4, August-September 1999, p. 92

As a Leader, you may have heard of LLLI Peer Counselor Programs but may wonder just who Peer Counselors are, what these programs do and why they are important.

"Decreasing infant mortality and morbidity by increasing the rate and duration of breastfeeding" is the stated goal of LLLI Peer Counselor Programs. Our logo portrays multi-ethnic baby faces within a circle symbolizing women supporting each other. Those who support Peer Counselor Programs-Leaders, Peer Counselors, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, dietitians-are linked by the same goal: protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding.

The LLLI Peer Counselor Program trains Breastfeeding Peer Counselors (PC), Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program Administrators (PCPA), PCPA Training Specialists and PCPA Trainers (see publications Nos.340-20 and 346-20). Training is held in various locations throughout the world. Currently, there are seven countries with active programs, some operating within the scope of LLL, others operating independently. The programs are under the LLLI umbrella, not to be directed by LLLI but to share commonalities. The most successful programs are those led by Leaders or former Leaders because of their clear understanding of mother-to-mother support.

The 18 to 20 hours of Peer Counselor training are usually presented in 2- to 4-hour units so participants can discuss, read and think about the information presented. The copyrighted curriculum covers all the material in the BREASTFEEDING RESOURCE GUIDE (No. 925) and includes additional cross-cultural and communication modules. It is a "breastfeeding basics" course. Peer Counselors are expected to read THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING or BREASTFEEDING PURE AND SIMPLE. Some training may include the BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK as well. For women who do not read, additional discussion time is allowed to cover topics orally.

Peer Counselor work is similar to Group Leader work in many ways. PCs hold support group meetings, help mothers by telephone and talk to mothers in waiting rooms, in the workplace or wherever mothers are. PCs may hold meetings in any location, calling them any name that does not include "LLL."

PCs may call themselves LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselors but they are not authorized to speak for LLL nor are they covered by LLLI liability insurance. Ideally, the women (yes, there are a few male PCs) have breastfed but the need for PCs is so great that we do not withhold training from interested and enthusiastic people who have not breastfed. The people we train usually work with populations that have little or no accurate breastfeeding information and support. Who better to train these interested individuals than La Leche League?

PCs are trained by LLLI BPC Program Administrators or LLLI BPC Training Specialists or LLLI BPC Trainers. Program Administrator training is 25 to 30 hours long, usually covering three to five days. Any Leader who has been leading meetings for more than a year is eligible. Leaders are perfect candidates because they are already competent in breastfeeding knowledge, Human Relations Enrichment (HRE) skills and mother-to-mother support. The qualifying difference is the commitment to reaching out beyond the local Group. In addition to Leaders, anyone who has demonstrated a commitment to assist mothers in breastfeeding resource-deprived communities and has one year of experience counseling breastfeeding mothers is eligible to take the training.

Program Administrators train PCs and also teach the LLLI Breastfeeding Course to any interested party. The LLLI Breastfeeding Course, formerly known as the Breastfeeding Advocate Course, is the basic breastfeeding information from the PC curriculum. It is marketed to individuals or agencies and satisfies the second requirement of the Baby- Friendly Hospital Initiative, which states that all health care staff should be trained in the basics of breastfeeding. PCs report to the Program Administrator who trained them or to a regional trainer using a meeting report form. Program Administrators report to regional trainers using an annual report form.

Program Administrators are trained by LLLI BPC Training Specialists or LLLI BPC Trainers. Currently, in the United States and Japan, all of the Training Specialists and Trainers are LLL Leaders. In other countries, there may be a different hierarchy or different names. The uniqueness of our program is its flexibility and ability to adapt to the needs of the population it serves.

Our circle of support is never ending and ever expanding. LLLI has trained more than 2,300 Peer Counselors and 300 Program Administrators. In 1998, LLLI trained more than 88 Peer Counselors and ten Program Administrators in the United States. Many Program Administrators work for Women, infant and Children (WIC) agencies or health agencies.

Peer Counselor Programs not only give Leaders another avenue to pursue, they also provide an opportunity for others who want to help breastfeeding mothers but may not have the qualifications or inclination to become Leaders.

In the beginning Peer Counselor Programs were located in minority urban areas and in breastfeeding resource-deprived areas. Today the need for breastfeeding information and support is so great that programs are active even in areas served by LLL Groups. There is a growing need for more Peer Counselors, especially among women in the work force. As many mothers return to work and continue to breastfeed, lunch-and breaktime meetings are needed.

LLLI wants to be there to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother. Peer Counselors and Program Administrators can do that.

Many Groups may have Peer Counselors who attend meetings. We need to support each other by sharing resources and participating in Area Conferences and health care professional days together. If you have a mother at your Group meetings who might relate better to a PC, don't hesitate to refer her to a PC. Encourage the PCs to tell mothers about Group meetings. Working together we can not only share the workload but increase breastfeeding help throughout the community.

If you are looking for a way to extend your breastfeeding expertise, whether paid or volunteer, consider becoming a Program Administrator. Managing a home, raising a family and working as a Leader all include skills used in setting up and managing a Peer Counselor Program. If you are looking for a rewarding challenge right where you live, look to our programs and reach out to mothers in your community.

The LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Programs are set up to stand with, stand apart from and stand within LLLI according to the populations served. Our programs are not, nor have they ever been, intended to replace LLL Leaders or Groups. Leaders and Groups may not yet be everywhere but the needs of breastfeeding mothers and babies are!

For questions or to schedule training, please contact a Training Administrator near you:

Barbara Cincilla -- New Jersery: Barbara Cincilla

Nancy March -- California: nmarch@cox.net

Beverly Spencer -- Metro Washington, DC: Bspen8401@aol.com

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