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Saturday, 4 January 2014

Help!

***BLOGPOST UPDATED 08-01-13***

I was going to wait until I speak at the ABM conference in June to make this plea, but I'm afraid I don't think it can't wait any longer.

DBM has grown to over 37,000+ 'likes' and is now in severe danger of becoming a victim of it's own success.


How so?

Well I'll tell you. If I didn't care about the ethos and quality of the support available through DBM then I wouldn't be writing this at all. I'd use the page as a platform for advertising as well as a 'support group'. I'd go all out for sensationalism, numbers and a 'bottom line'. You might not think that happens elsewhere, but let me tell you that it does. And hats off! Running a page as big as DBM (and much bigger in some cases!) is a massive commitment, it's a huge undertaking. I don't blame any page owner who makes money out of advertising one little bit - I totally understand. Why shouldn't they be paid for all their hard work? 
However, my problem is that I am an idealist, and I'm passionate about keeping money OUT of breastfeeding support. I have always felt it was important to grow DBM as a forum where peer support and effective signposting can (and do!) function side by side - without the possibility of any sort of interference or 'angle' from sponsors. 

Online breastfeeding support is absolutely essential in the C21st - as so many of you have testified. That the main breastfeeding organisations do not seem to have fully engaged with online social media-based support is a disgrace in my opinion. They may have facebook pages, but they will rarely get involved with individuals. They use social media largely as a shop front. Where interaction does take place, the aim seems to be to redirect mothers as quickly as possible elsewhere, and this misses much of the (crucial)  social aspect of online communication. Smaller (local) support groups do exist but these can often be hard for a new mum to locate or the group is 'closed' - meaning new members have to request to join and are denied the option of learning through 'lurking'. 

At this point I must acknowledge the really positive steps towards online engagement made by La Leche League GB*(see below - thank you for clarifying these for me!); however there seems (to me!) to still be a very long way to go across the board. Perhaps if nothing else, DBM can assist by helping to publicise what support *does* currently exist so that more women are likely to find their way.

I understand the many pitfalls of 'online support' honestly, I really do! That's part of the reason I'm writing this post. I worry that I cannot guarantee the quality of the moderation and support on DBM anymore. It's just too big now. I would need to be glued to the group 24/7 - and that's just impossible. This means I have two choices: 1/ ask for help or 2/ close down the page. 

Yes, I have admins, but I'm already asking a lot of them to expect them to give up their precious time for DBM. I don't run a rota, and I am relying purely on their honesty and goodwill. It has all worked reasonably well up until now - but it's no longer a long-term solution and it won't help DBM to grow or to improve. 

Just because online breastfeeding support has potential pitfalls and is hard to navigate does NOT mean that it's not something the main breastfeeding organisations shouldn't be actively engaged in. For goodness sake, BFCs working on phone lines are not dealing with women in person either, but they are listening, offering support, and they are signposting - and you can also do that online! DBM has been doing it - to the best of it's ability - for three years now. It has also provided a platform for women to come together to engage in peer-to peer-interaction which has a reputation for being genuinely supportive. Many women are nervous about picking up the phone, but are far less nervous about writing a message on a social media site (rightly or wrongly).

In my opinion the main UK breastfeeding organisations are currently failing to engage fully, and transparently with these women.

Think about it, I'm only trained to peer support level and when I started DBM I had no previous experience with social media. So HOW ON EARTH could I ever have grown an online group to this size (with a budget of £0) unless there was a genuine NEED for it? 

So here's the thing. I have two small children, I'm self-employed in a number of different roles, and  I also volunteer. The facebook group - and you all - deserve better than I can offer now. 

I want to ask the four main breastfeeding organisations to come together and give serious consideration to using DBM as some sort of National Breastfeeding Support Page - perhaps training some of their volunteer BFCs specifically in online support - and running it in conjunction with the National Breastfeeding Helpline. 

There are over 37,000 people who 'like' DBM on Facebook, and 1,400+ people following on Twitter - surely that's a platform which can (in the right hands) bring about real improvements in the breastfeeding support available to women in the UK and further afield? DBM also has a presence on Google+ which has yet to be fully exploited and with that comes the possibility of moderated Google hangouts in the future... DBM is not the largest breastfeeding support group online, but it is the largest based in the UK (as far as I'm aware!). It would take a passionate social media manager a long time to build up a community of this size - and cost a fair bit of money in the process!

Breastfeeding support will always be best done in person, woman to woman. However, thanks to generations of formula feeding and the billions spent on marketing breast milk substitutes, we are a fragmented lot. Online support is key in re-connecting women and improving breastfeeding rates into the C21st. In my opinion the main breastfeeding support organisations have ignored the elephant in the room long enough.

When DBM was new, someone told me I was foolish to get involved in online breastfeeding support, because of all it's potential pitfalls.. My local health board (for whom I was a volunteer at the time) were positively phobic about it when I told them. I took all that feedback seriously, absolutely I did. 
However, I came to the conclusion that these concerns need to be weighed against the very great deal of GOOD that can be done by facilitating support online, by sharing information, generating discussion, and by signposting. 

Knowledge is power, and the internet is a very powerful resource. I am in a fairly unusual position in that I think I am able to appreciate both sides of the 'internet support' coin better than most. I have made lots of mistakes, and I think I also have a good understanding of what helps too. I will be talking about some of the things that I have learned at the ABM conference in June, and by then I hope to have a better idea of what will be happening next for DBM. 

Please leave me a comment on facebook explaining how online support has helped you. Post on the facebook walls of the main bf organisations. Share this blog, and discuss my proposal amongst yourselvesYour input will be powerful, and it's essential if DBM is to continue. If it's a dumb idea I'll hang up my mouse satisfied that I've tried my best. If it's a good one, then everyone wins.

Change is needed. So much of the potential I know DBM has is going to waste due to lack of time and resources. I don't want anything in return, except to know that this resource I have invested so many hundreds of my hours in will continue to grow, and provide genuinely supportive, high quality online breastfeeding support.

x anne


*Following a statement from La Leche League GB concerning some of the content of this blog I have made some alterations, and I'm happy to clarify that LLL GB do offer online support to women via their facebook page (Breastfeeding Matters), and that they also provide support elsewhere on facebook, have a Twitter account and maintain an online forum

14 comments:

  1. I think your right I'm a volunteer with the BfN, I can see the need for online support. there are a lot of things that you need to be careful with, and the biggest draw back I find is often not being able to easily explore the whole situation with a mum. Which you can do during a phone conversation.
    . I would love to think we could get all the breastfeeding support groups working together, I'm not sure how thiswould woke when the NHS failed to get them all to support the national breastfeeding helpline.

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  2. Often the online support isn't about a solution to a problem it's the initial 'aaaarghh this doesn't feel good' Its about getting the push to seek help that other people are in the same boat.
    Online support is often more about not feeling alone - that's why it says under the page title DBM is classed as a COMMUNITY! I have posted on DBM in the middle of the night at the end of my tether with feeding and guess what-someone replied up feeding and feeling just the same. We commented back and forth and I am still feeding over a year later. I didn't want to speak to someone, I was tired and emotional and just needed reassurance to get me through the night until I could go to the breastfeeding peer support group because how can someone help by phone was all I could think at the time.
    I know this may not be what you were after but this is how I feel. I am also part of a secret group on Facebook (so it doesn't show on your wall) & on here everyone supports, if you have a problem people will say if they have had the same issue but they will support and reassure each other.

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  3. I run a bf support group in a premises, as a charity, as a volunteer, I also run the web and fb pages, media promotion, training and insurances etc etc all voluntary as am.passionate about bf support and the need for knowledge and accessability. I too am a mum.of two, am self employed and have the usual home and financial commitments. I fully appreciate what you are saying about the use and importance of social media and the need in this age to have the top four organisations working together with this proposal. I beleive the questions need to be asked and the conversation started.......... You have started the ball rolling :-) i know that a lot of mums get a great deal of their support from Facebook pages alone, they are of course open at 3am when you need that support and reassurance the most. I am a mother supporter for the ABM and aim to be a BFC once my training complete, this would be on the phone lines but I too would like to give that same support online......

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  4. It is in the interest of all women to have access to free support in breastfeeding. It is a major public health issue and as such should have the sort of resources nationally assigned to it similar to that of the recent anti-smoking campaign has had. Women should have access to trained supporters that are paid. Your blog has really helped some women but I don't believe the way forward is to be critical of the limits of us volunteers but to put your eyes on the prize of raising awareness of this blog to the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt and getting your 37000 women to lobby him for a funded full-time post, more support in communities and in the wards!!

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    Replies
    1. I'm not entirely sure I understand your comment Anon. In what way was I critical of volunteers? Also - you seem to be missing the point of my blogpost. I was saying I needed help with DBM - and you are asking me to try to start a campaign to lobby Jeremy Hunt?

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    2. Anne, if you need help with DBM because it's too big for you to handle as a volunteer - which is an argument I entirely understand - then either we need more high-quality volunteers or we need paid workers. So lobbying Jeremy Hunt for paid workers is surely exactly the right response! All volunteers have their limits. Organisations like LLL and the ABM are made up of volunteers who do as much as they can. But all volunteers have limits on their time. You can't be a DBM volunteer 24/7 - and neither can any other volunteer.

      The other part of this, of course, is that we need TRAINED and EXPERIENCED breastfeeding supporters. You're passionate about providing high quality support, which is why you know it can't be done by random strangers. You're knowledgeable - but not yet qualified beyond peer supporter level. Breastfeeding support by amateurs can sabotage breastfeeding - which is worse than no support. DBM is too much for you to do, I get that. So lobby for training for more supporters so others can help you.

      Well done on what you've done with DBM but I completely understand why it's too much for you to do alone. Of course you need support, we all do. But providing trained, experienced, professional support takes money. One volunteer can't do it, and it's OK to realise that you can't do it all alone either.

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  5. I think the reason DBM has over 37,000 members is due to the fact that it was started by a breastfeeding mum and not by the mainstream breastfeeding support organisations. The secret of its success and its unique selling point is mother to mother support.

    I think mums (and dads) feel more confident to post their thoughts, worries and problems in a place where (on the most part) they wont be judged or told text book answers or stick to Health Trust guidelines. I have read so many posts from mums and read with interest replies from mums who have been in similar situations and particularly those situations where the medical profession have been less that supportive. I don't think having a National Breastfeeding Support page would be able to do the same thing (unfortunately).

    The online support through DBM will often go above and beyond as many group members are knowledgeable about issues being raised. They post links to information within the space of a post, they offer guidance and help immediately and as someone has mentioned - the help is always there through the night as many mums access the page while night feeding.

    I can only begin to understand the demands on those who run this page and those who take on the admin side - but I would be worried that if it became a National Breastfeeding Support Page mums may feel less inclined to be totally honest about their challenges because the 'professionals' are reading it.

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  6. I'm not familiar with the UK-specific online help from LLL, but the international organization has quite a few online options for mother-to-mother support:

    Mother-to-Mother Forums - message board where moms can ask questions and receive support from other moms anonymously

    Online Help Forms - moms can get one-on-one help from an LLL Leader online

    Mother-to-Mother Breastfeeding Support Facebook group - a closed (private) group where moms can post questions

    I know a lot of local LLL entities have their own online support options too. It may be mostly a question of getting the word out about what's available.

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  7. Bringing in the four main breastfeeding organisations to help you with your page would probably be an insurance nightmare so is probably impossible. Besides, there are many ways women can get support online from Twitter #bfchat to finding out telephone numbers to filling out a LLL online helpform or reading BfN leaflets or listening to podcasts. A few times u make it sound like the UK breastfeeding organisations aren't doing anything online and I'm not sure that is true? You obviously give a sh*t though and that is great :))

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  8. Hi, Thanks for the update about LLL. Just to let you know that the LLLGB Twitter account handle is @LLLGB and not @LaLecheLeagueGB. :)

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  9. Anne I can't agree more the online breastfeeding community is so important. I'm from a family where I was the first woman of 5 generations to breastfeed her babies (my 94 year old great-grandmother did not breastfeed!). As someone who had no peers in her life to support her when breastfeeding and little to no help from he NHS, the online community gave me the support i needed to breastfeed my son for 20 months of his life. I hope these organisations can start getting it right for women in this country.

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  10. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comSunday, 13 April 2014 22:44:00 WEST

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    ReplyDelete
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  12. I am with you on this. As a new mom, I started with 0 knowledge. Forums somehow helped me learn a lot, but I think that there could be more. Good luck!

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