Empowering breastfeeding mothers across the West Coast

Raewyn Johnson (top left) and some of the Mum4Mums at Reefton – Rose, Ayla and Christine – along with Susan Barnett, of West Coast DHB (far right).

For the past 15 years, the Mum4Mum Peer Counselling programme has been providing breastfeeding mothers across the West Coast with support, encouragement and guidance.

Breastfeeding advocate Raewyn Johnson has been there since the beginning. As one of the first two West Coast PHO employees in 2007, Raewyn and a former colleague – both lactation consultants – were contracted to provide breastfeeding support. After tweaking the La Leche League breastfeeding counsellor programme to fit the local community, they named it Mum4Mum.

Today, Raewyn job-shares with her colleague Erin, covering different areas of the West Coast to provide lactation consultancy services, education and support. They also train women in their communities to become Mum4Mum Breastfeeding Supporters.

The programme works by training mothers to empower and support other mothers on their breastfeeding journey. “We now have over 200 Mum4Mums on the West Coast and across New Zealand, who are helping other mums with the knowledge they’ve gained during their training and their own personal experience, and it just works so beautifully,” says Raewyn.

Mum4Mums can meet with parents to talk about breastfeeding before or after the baby is born. They have a wide range of personal experience, including older first-time parents, teenage parents, twin breastfeeding, as well as problems such as sore nipples, engorgement, or mastitis.

Raewyn Johnson, breastfeeding advocate, West Coast Primary Health Organisation.

Raewyn originally trained as a registered nurse and completed Plunket training prior to having her own children, who are now adults. “I breastfed both my babies, and with my first daughter I had cracked nipples, multiple bouts of mastitis and multiple doses of antibiotics, so I have real empathy for women who are struggling with breastfeeding – which is one of the reasons I was inspired to go further into the field of maternal health.”

The trained volunteers are included in the West Coast Breastfeeding Handbook, which is full of information about breastfeeding, alongside the list of Mum4Mum Breastfeeding Supporters. “The mothers who wish to have their names in the book provide a photo, contact details and a blurb about themselves and their breastfeeding experience, so that a mother looking through the book can choose who to contact for support and advice.”

The two-hour training classes are run over eight weeks and the Mum4Mum volunteers graduate with a certificate. “Some mums have gone on to use the certificate when applying for jobs, which is fabulous, and another mum went on to complete her childbirth educator certificate and now teaches antenatal education.”

Quarterly reports on the Mum4Mum Peer Counselling Programme prove the service is working. Not only are many mothers being supported, but a 2015 evaluation of the service showed 100% of the trained volunteers felt more confident with their own breastfeeding after completing the course.

“A significant number of them breastfed for longer than they thought they would as well, which is really positive. It’s really important we continue training these mums, as some of them who trained 13 or 15 years ago are still supporting women, and a lot of the work is also done by the newest mums as they are the ones with the little babies who are still going to the coffee groups and playgroups.”

Published on: Tuesday, July 27th, 2021, under Child health