Mother-to-mother support has proven to be one of the most successful approaches to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies. It has been so successful that Patricia Daniels, our former national WIC director, established a national USDA goal to institutionalize breastfeeding peer counseling as a core service in the WIC Program. Texas has a head start on this initiative; our state was one of the first in the nation to implement a Peer Counselor Program.
Since the program began in April 1991, over 3,500 mothers have been trained as breastfeeding peer counselors in Texas. Peer counselors work in a variety of settings including WIC clinics, hospitals, lactation support centers and throughout the community.
The idea at the heart of the Peer Counselor Program is that, as peers, these mothers have an ability to help and influence other mothers that health professionals do not have. The training provided will help the counselors go beyond their own experience and give mothers in normal breastfeeding situations help and advice based on current research and consensus of knowledge from breastfeeding experts.
Peer Counselor Qualifications
In order to become a WIC Peer Counselor, you must meet the following criteria:
- Past or current WIC participant
- Successfully breastfed at least one child
Please contact your local WIC office to inquire about openings.
Peer Counselor Training
Peer counselors receive a 20-hour training course that includes breastfeeding basics, counseling skills, and emphasis on the role of the peer counselors in making referrals for circumstances outside the realm of normal breastfeeding. This training is provided at the local level after being hired.
Peer Counselor Services
Providing role models: Many women, in areas where breastfeeding rates are low, have never seen a baby being breastfed. Many have never talked with a mother who has breastfed her baby. Breastfeeding peer counselors are role models, breastfeeding their infants and discussing their breastfeeding experiences in WIC classes and waiting rooms.
Classes and counseling: Breastfeeding education, information, and management are labor-intensive and time consuming. Though some WIC staff time is committed to breastfeeding, ratio of caseload and other necessary staff duties limit the quantity of staff time available to support breastfeeding. Breastfeeding peer counselors teach or assist with group classes, provide one-to-one counseling, telephone counseling, home visits (at some sites), and provide support above and beyond the support available from other WIC staff.
Hospital counseling: Peer counselors help mothers initiate breastfeeding and provide information on what to expect during the first few days and weeks of breastfeeding. They provide follow-up counseling by phone or in the clinic.
Referral: Immediate, appropriate referral is a key role of the peer counselor. The peer counselor program design includes developing an appropriate referral system.
Lactation Consultant Support
Most WIC local agencies have lactation consultants on staff or on contract to provide back up support and follow-up training for peer counselors. Peer counselors are trained to help mothers with normal breastfeeding and to make immediate referral when they encounter a mother and baby with a problem outside the realm of normal breastfeeding. They may refer to their site supervisor, breastfeeding coordinator, nurse, nutritionist, lactation consultant, the mother’s physician, or designated health professional.
- WIC directors report that peer counselors rejuvenate the WIC staff's enthusiasm for promoting breastfeeding.
- Peer counselors gain skills and self-esteem—and the work histories—that enable them to go on to other employment. Many peer counselors have been hired into full-time jobs in the WIC Program, many others have gone on to other full-time employment or returned to school.
- Many peer counselors have become International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC).
For more information please contact:
Asia Sartor, BHWP, CHES, IBCLC
Peer Counselor Coordinator
Texas Health and Human Services Commission
PO Box 13247
Austin, TX 78711-3247 MC-1933