Thursday, 16 June 2011

Get a peek into the high-rollin' life of a WIC peer counselor

Many of the patients I see as an LC in a hospital do not have a lot of support for breastfeeding after they go home. They may not have very supportive families - maybe no one in their family has ever breastfed. They may need to return to work very quickly in environments that are not breastfeeding-friendly. They may have concerns and issues with breastfeeding but cannot afford to see a private LC (even if they know that private LCs exist); or not be able to get transportation to any affordable resources; they may not feel comfortable attending peer-to-peer support groups like La Leche League because the moms there come from very different backgrounds. They may not speak any English.

Many of these moms are discharged from the hospital with breastfeeding problems, and I watch them go with the feeling that I am watching them walk off a cliff. But if they are going home to a county that offers WIC peer counseling, I at least have the feeling that there is a safety net below hoping to catch them. The peer counselors offer support, encouragement, and basic breastfeeding help by phone, in the office, and sometimes even via home visits. They are mothers who themselves have breastfed, who have been on WIC, and who come from similar communities and backgrounds as the WIC moms they are assisting. They are absolutely passionate about their work and they are the ONLY breastfeeding help that many WIC moms EVER access. And they are evidence-based! Peer counseling has been shown in randomized controlled trials to be one of the most effective interventions in helping low-income women meet their breastfeeding goals.

When I heard about Rep. Virginia Foxx proposing to cut WIC peer counseling, I was sick. I imagined watching so many more women walk off that cliff. I am relieved that the proposal has been defeated, and in the meantime I really enjoyed a piece at The Leaky Boob - by a WIC peer counselor who wants to show Rep. Foxx the luxe life the congresswoman seems to imagine peer counselors are leading.

Now let’s look at a typical day in the life of me. I get to work, check voicemail, counsel prenatal moms about the benefits of breastfeeding, what to expect, and what to do when they go back to work. I rent our breastpumps. I do feeding assessments if moms are concerned about baby not getting enough. I call clients. I evaluate latches. I teach classes. I leave notes in the files so that other staff knows what is going on with the client. ...

At four, I do clock out. Then I turn on my cell phone – MY cell phone, Representative Foxx, the one that is not paid for by the company, thank you very much – and I run my own warmline for my clients. Sometimes, I don’t get a lot of calls. Sometimes I do. I have taken calls that have lasted hours. I have taken middle of the night calls. I have taken texts. I have taken calls on major holidays, most notably Christmas Eve. I took a call when my daughter was in the hospital and I was frazzled and upset and kind of really wanted to let it just go to voicemail. ...

I took this job for the clients I have. Man, they are amazing. I have students, and full time workers. I have moms who have babies in the NICU who are totally committed to breastfeeding, despite the challenges. I have moms whose babies never latched who have pumped and struggled for months on end because this is that important to them. I have moms with breast injuries that keep them from producing enough milk who still do as much as they can.. I have mothers who have lost their babies and are still pumping, donating milk, for other babies. My clients are diverse and wonderful. They are black and white and Asian and Hispanic. They are lesbian and straight. They are teen moms and forty somethings. They are incredible parents and they humble me every single day.


Thank you, WIC peer counselors, for everything that you do for moms! You are amazing!!