FAQ SHEET 2
Updated April 2004
What is mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding?
Mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding means women helping women breastfeed
their babies. Experienced breastfeeding mothers model optimal breastfeeding
practices, share information and experiences, and offer support to other women
in an atmosphere of trust and respect. In this setting, pregnant women and
mothers who are breastfeeding explore options that result in a satisfying
Why is mother-to-mother support needed?
Many traditional societies have recognized that a new mother is often vulnerable
and sensitive and needs encouragement and support. The informal, traditional
support system that positively reinforced breastfeeding in the past may no
longer be in place where modernization and bottle-feeding have become the norm.
Mother-to-mother support helps fill this gap, as usually it is easier for
mothers to share their concerns with other mothers. Mother-to-mother support is
available in the mother’s own community and provides an essential complement to
the health care system, even where health care providers are well trained in the
science of lactation and the clinical management of breastfeeding.
Mother-to-mother support counters the dissemination of incorrect or misleading
information, thus enabling the mother to make informed choices about the feeding
of her baby.
Who benefits from mother-to-mother support?
Babies, mothers, family members, and health care providers all benefit from
mother-to-mother support. Pregnant women gain knowledge in preparation for
breastfeeding, and mothers receive support and learn from the wisdom of more
experienced mothers. Babies get their choice food as well as a healthy start in
life. Husbands and other family members benefit because a new mother who is well
supported has greater confidence and can cope better with the adjustments of
motherhood. Grandmothers and anyone who is interested in breastfeeding gain
knowledge and learn how to support breastfeeding women. Health care providers
benefit from being able to refer mothers to resources specifically designed to
provide the support they need.
Where, when, and how does mother-to-mother support take place?
Mother-to-mother support takes place one-on-one or in groups, informally or formally, anytime, anywhere: in the market place, at
the bus stop, at church meetings, in a community hall, at maternity clinics—wherever pregnant or breastfeeding mothers are found.
Mother-to-mother support occurs in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, the following:
chance contacts with mothers in the community
groups of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
telephone counseling, hospital, and home visits
interactive presentations at service club meetings, schools, universities, etc.
How long can a mother participate in mother-to-mother support?
There is no set time limit for a mother’s participation, though a mother may move on to different types of involvement as time
passes. For example, women may make contact and/or attend meetings during pregnancy or while breastfeeding and may continue
with subsequent children. A mother may choose to stay on and become one of the “experienced” mothers, or she may undergo
training and become a telephone counselor, peer counselor, or facilitator for a mother support group in her community. Older
mothers/grandmothers may continue to participate in administrative, fund-raising, or other supportive activities.
What kind of information and materials are shared and disseminated through mother-to-mother support?
Mother-to-mother support is not about giving medical advice but about sharing information. Information is provided on topics such
as breastmilk production, latch-on and positioning, the resolution of common breastfeeding difficulties, how to tell if the baby is receiving
enough breastmilk, and how to breastfeed discreetly (if this is a concern). Mothers returning to work or in difficult medical circumstances
receive support and information on how to continue breastfeeding in these situations. Mothers may lend each other materials informally, or a mother
support group may have a lending library of breastfeeding and parenting books, as well as leaflets covering various breastfeeding issues
in the local language. Larger, more established mother-to-mother support organizations, such as La Leche League International
(LLLI) and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), supply books and information as well as organize local and international
conferences for information sharing.
How can women be motivated to become and remain involved in mother-to-mother support?
A sense of self-accomplishment is a strong motivation in and of itself. Volunteers work best if they enjoy what they are doing. Individual
talents need to be tapped; volunteers need ongoing nurturing and support. This can be achieved through regular formal and informal meetings among volunteers
and/or their support persons, to discuss recent breastfeeding and related information, reinforce breastfeeding topics and counseling skills, help
to solve special breastfeeding difficulties, and provide mutual feedback and support in handling frustrations and disappointments.
In between meetings, communication and education can take the form of regular newsletters, phone calls from a support person, or contact with a “buddy.” As
mothers become more experienced in breastfeeding and in mother-to-mother support, they can undergo training to become a facilitator, or present a topic at a
workshop or conference.
What is the difference between a mother-to-other support group and a mothers’ support group?
One form of mother-to-mother support is the “support group.” A mother-to-mother support group is initiated and operated by a
mother who facilitates the meeting. She may have received training, but her primary qualification is that she is a mother with
breastfeeding experience. At the meetings new, as well as experienced mothers, share information and are encouraged to voice their
doubts and concerns.
A mothers’ support group may be facilitated by a health care provider or someone who is considered an expert in a certain field.
The facilitator may not be a mother or belong to the same peer group. Mothers’ support groups can take place in the context
of “clubs” formed for the purpose of credit, arts/crafts, sewing, etc. In some mothers’ support groups, new, as well as experienced
mothers, share information and are encouraged to voice their doubts and concerns; in others, information is given via talks or lectures.
What is the methodology most commonly used in a mother-to-mother support group setting?
Mother-to-mother support groups utilize a methodology that follows an organized, yet flexible format with guided discussion, rather
than a formal class where “experts” teach. Each meeting has a different topic for discussion. The facilitator briefly introduces the
topic and then encourage others to share their experiences and thoughts. With the help of experienced breastfeeding mothers, the
facilitator gently corrects any misinformation, provides accurate facts, and encourages the participants to share their experiences.
Active participation from group members is a process of peer support which results in empowerment, and an increase in self
realization for mothers. Together, mothers find ways to resolve breastfeeding difficulties, improve their infant feeding practices, and
support each other.
What are the difficulties in starting mother support groups?
The community may not perceive the need for establishing a support group. The prevailing attitude in society may be an
obstacle. People may think that breastfeeding is a common practice, old fashioned, difficult, embarrassing, or inconvenient.
Countering these attitudes is difficult. News releases in print and on radio, posters, and leaflets can help raise awareness of
breastfeeding in general and the benefits of support groups.
Health care providers may feel threatened until they understand that the support group complements the service offered by the
formal health sector. Meeting with local health care providers can help create a spirit of trust, cooperation, and team work.
What training, support, and staff are needed to implement support groups?
Those involved in support groups should receive training in breastfeeding and young child feeding as well as training in counseling
skills and the dynamics of support groups.
Training for the facilitator may take the form of an official, recognized training course or an apprenticeship. Training programs
vary from 20 to 80 hours. Lessons spread over time allow for better assimilation of material as do participatory activities.
Some form of accountability or simple record keeping by the facilitator is usually necessary, depending upon the funder or organizational
regulations. This may include simple statistics such as when and where meetings were held or mothers were contacted, how many pregnant women/
mothers were helped, and common breastfeeding difficulties encountered.
Those who are directly working with the mothers at the community level also need a support person to whom they have easy access
and who can provide quick feedback. This can be an experienced person from within the support group structure. There should
also be persons who are responsible for seeing to the needs of the mother-to-mother support network.
What other activities are carried out through mother-to-mother support to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding?
In addition to providing direct support to mothers, mother-to-other support activities can include policy, training, research,
advocacy, and information dissemination. Mother-to-mother support efforts can also include coordination and integration at
the global and national levels such as:
collaboration with international activities of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action’s (WABA) World Breastfeeding Week and Mother Support Task Force,
collaboration with WHO and UNICEF on the Mother Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (Step 10), and
sponsorship and participation in a wide variety of workshops, conferences, and meetings.
How can mother-to-mother support activities be sustained?
Some of the challenges to sustainability are the shortage and turn-over of volunteers as well as financial constraints. Turn-over is
often the result of family responsibilities and a lack of recognition and acceptance of the volunteers by health care providers. These
challenges can be addressed by focusing on one or two activities, matching tasks to available time, and providing incentives. Examples
of incentives for volunteers include stipends, food, free medical services, a graduation ceremony and training diploma, and
special clothing and other articles to distinguish the volunteers.
Some programs have addressed financial constraints by initiating income-generating activities, such as the sale of tee-shirts, posters,
and educational materials. Others have approached various donors for training and program grants and for in-kind contribution of
goods (such as office space and equipment) and services.
Lack of collaboration with other health services threatens sustainability. As a general rule, networking and collaboration with
government agencies and NGOs are essential links that can facilitate two-way referrals, shared training, and technical assistance
opportunities. A solid and consistent support structure, with committed individuals, needs to be in place to support growth.
|For additional information and resources on mother-to-mother support, contact the
LINKAGES Project or
La Leche League International,
1400 N. Meacham Road, Schaumburg, IL, 60173-4048, U.S.
Phone: (847) 519-7730, or
visit the website at www.lalecheleague.org
FAQ Sheet is a publication of LINKAGES: Breastfeeding, LAM, Related Complementary
Feeding, and Maternal Nutrition Program, and was made possible through support provided
to the Academy for Educational Development (AED) by the Bureau for Global Health of the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the terms of
Cooperative Agreement No. HRN-A-00-97-00007-00. The opinions expressed herein are
those of the author( s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or AED. La Leche
League International contributed to the development of this publication. April 2004