Released on: 06 September 2021

A report published in MIDIRS Midwifery Digest this week demonstrates the value of breastfeeding support by video during Covid-19, through the evaluation of a service provided by NCT breastfeeding counsellors in Hampshire.

Mother breastfeeding her baby

At NCT, we know just how important it is to new parents that they can access timely, skilled and specialist support with feeding their baby.  

Covid-19 impacted significantly on the support available. Community drop-ins were forced to close and health visiting services were disrupted, compounded by family and friends being unable to provide practical and emotional support in the home.  

NCT’s breastfeeding counsellors adapted quickly to continue to provide invaluable support by phone, video and online, and many experienced a significant increase in demand for their services.  

NCT breastfeeding counsellors undertake an extensive university-accredited training course in counselling, listening skills and research-based breastfeeding knowledge – developing a depth of specialist, evidence-based experience that complements the work of midwifery and health visiting teams. 

At the beginning of the first Covid-19 lockdown, a team of NCT breastfeeding counsellors in Hampshire rapidly responded by setting up appointment-based support via one-to-one video calls for local women. Prior to lockdown, support had been provided in-person at community drop-ins. Strong relationships with midwifery and health visiting services locally ensured strong referral routes, with community fundraising and local grants helping to fund the service. 

An evaluation survey was shared with women who registered for an appointment during 2020. Of the 107 women (33% of those invited) who responded: 

  • 98 per cent would recommend video call support. 

  • 86 per cent said their confidence increased. 

  • 84 per cent said they breastfed for longer than without support. 

  • The proportion of babies receiving any breast milk at six months was 88 per cent; considerably higher than the UK average (34 per cent).  

The report also found practical advantages to video appointments including greater accessibility for parents of very young babies and access for partners. In comparison to 2016 data, 22% accessed support when their baby was under a week old and 42% when their baby was under two weeks old – higher than the 10% and 20% accessing the face-to-face community drop-in at the same stages. 

Women who received support shared their experiences of the service:  

‘Without your help I would have given up on breastfeeding – we are now three months in and I am so glad we persevered.’ 

‘Lockdown is incredibly lonely, especially when you're trying to raise a baby, the video appointment was so valuable to me.’ 

‘It was personal, tailored, specific to my individual situation and from a place of deep knowledge and understanding.’ 

‘The night before my appointment I felt so disappointed in myself and cried for entire evening thinking I will stop breastfeeding and my girl was only 7–8 weeks at the time. She’s now over 5 months and I’m still breastfeeding.’ 

Mindy Noble, NCT breastfeeding counsellor in Hampshire, said: 

‘We had never done any video breastfeeding support prior to lockdown so it was a leap into the unknown. As soon as we started, people responded really well and the advantages of video over telephone were obvious. Video enabled us to build rapport quickly with the mum seeing her on screen as well as being able to see what she was doing and offer suggestions. We can see now that the future of specialist breastfeeding support is highly likely to include video, in particular where specialist input is required.’ 

Sarah McMullen, Director of Impact and Engagement, NCT, said:  

‘Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard time and again how much families have valued the specialist skills and person-centred support of NCT breastfeeding counsellors, who responded so quickly to adapt their support to an online offering. This evaluation demonstrates how well video support can work, particularly during the very early days and weeks with a new baby - when parents often report a ‘postnatal gap’ in the support available. Through this service, and many others across the UK, we’re gathering rich learning to inform our future support offer.’ 

The full article appears in MIDIRS (Midwives Information & Resource Service) Midwifery Digest

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