Electronic Empathy

Electronic Empathy

How social media is helping the BRAS to support parents during COVID19

The team of peer supporters answering your messages on social media!
Top row, left to right: Paula, Kelly, Kat
Bottom row, left to right: Helen, Verity, Jules

Hello, my name is Paula and I am a Charnwood BRA! That’s me, up there, wearing the yellow headband. Some of you may have met me at our breastfeeding cafes or spoken to me online but you probably don’t know that another role I hold within the BRAS is coordinating our social media content and support. When I started volunteering for the BRAS in 2017, volunteering on the Facebook page was a small part of my volunteer role. We had a trickle of messages which didn’t come in with any regularity, I couldn’t have imagined how important this sort of breastfeeding support would become! The team of peer supporters manning social media, sharing information and creating content has gone from a couple of folks to more than eleven which is fantastic. Over the lockdown period, our Facebook support team has given breastfeeding reassurance and support to over 100 people on a wide range of breastfeeding topics ranging from sore nipples, blocked ducts, frequent feeding, return to work, expressing… you name it, we talk about it! As our online support has become more important than ever during the COVID pandemic, I thought I would write a few words about the help and information the BRAS offer online.

I’ve been supporting online for a few years now and I have come to realise that online breastfeeding support is a real skill! When we lose the nuance of body language and tone of voice, the text has to do everything, from expressing empathy to exploring issues, to offering reassurance and giving information. Webchat support is a careful balance of unpicking a problem with open and closed questions and offering suggestions which may help while making sure we don’t inadvertently type something in a way which could cause upset and offence. Or come across as bossy! Choice of words really matters because everything we say to a mum or parent is all laid out there, in black and white and we are often talking to people at a really vulnerable stage of life. Text is very unforgiving. However, despite these challenges, I passionately believe support online can be really effective. One brilliant advantage is being able to share links to information and discuss it with the mother or parent in real-time, rather than having to suggest to someone “try googling this really good article…” It’s also easier to share pictures with each other, such as examples of feeding positions which might be useful. Sometimes, people choose to share photos or videos with us- it’s surprising how many suggestions and tweaks you can suggest to someone struggling to attach their baby from just seeing a photo! Sometimes we can even see more because a video or photo can get closer than you would feel comfortable getting in person. Another advantage is that our social media support can be manned by multiple peer supporters at the same time- so we can support more people and still respond fairly quickly which we know is really appreciated by breastfeeding folks. This aspect of it has been really important during this time because the phone line has been under lots of pressure as well. It’s nice to feel that as well as helping parents who need it, we can also support our fellow volunteers- the folks on the phone are working so hard right now!

Even in a global pandemic, babies keep on coming and though we had established remote support channels, such as our phone lines and Facebook messenger support, the shutdown of breastfeeding cafes and antenatal workshops was a big worry for us. So we also decided to set up the Charnwood BRAS Virtual Breastfeeding Café. Any regular at our breastfeeding cafes will tell you that they have never just been about breastfeeding support. They have always been a place for people to share experiences and support each other with the highs and lows of parenthood. We knew the loss of this ‘village’ during the COVID shutdown would be keenly felt. Setting the group up took almost a day’s work but it was worth it, I hope! We’ve been keen to create an informal café atmosphere in the Facebook group, so we also run real-time café threads, twice a week. This is a time where parents know they can post in the group for support and get an immediate response from us, or just have a chat between themselves! We also wanted to be able to celebrate feeding milestones with people so our “Boobie Awards” badges were created by our peer supporter Tori, we think this has been really well received!

Our social media output is a huge team effort, these are some of the BRAS who help us with content, posting and moderating the Facebook group!
Top row, left to right: Meg, Liz, Tori
Bottom row, left to right: Amy, Claire, Anna

Last, but not least, another way we have been trying to provide support through posting content on our social media pages. Our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts have continued to reach folks all over Charnwood and mean we can offer evidence-based information and normalise breastfeeding, alongside some light-hearted humour! Over the past couple of months, we have really stepped up the information we share, so that crucial messages about breastfeeding with COVID, spotting potential feeding issues and where to access support are getting out to parents. One of our proudest moments recently was when the Charnwood BRAS Facebook page hosted a talk from Emma Pickett, Chair of the ABM and all-around lactation goddess, on preparing to breastfeed! We hoped this would go some way to making up for the loss of our Antenatal workshop (not that this could ever be replaced!). We’ve also utilised the website more, for example putting up blog posts on accessible resources for parents preparing to breastfeed, Q&A’s and personal stories from some of our brilliant volunteers.

I’m so proud to be a BRA. Our volunteers have pulled together and regrouped to make sure we can continue to support others during this time whether that’s been on social media, the phone, talking to family and friends or contributing to the content we put out on our website and pages. Throughout the pandemic, our peer supporters, who were always volunteers doing this in their spare time, have faced their own additional challenges. Some have been shielding, some have been ill, many have been homeschooling or looking after young children (often while working from home too). Let’s not forget hunting down loo roll for a family! Yet, despite personal challenges, I feel we have still delivered a fantastic standard of support. This would never have been possible without the dedication, resilience and some brilliant teamwork!

So if you need support, please don’t despair, although we may not be able to get together, breastfeeding parents in Charnwood are not alone. We are still here for you. So please get in touch!

Written by Paula Rowley, Peer Supporter

You can find out all the ways our BRAS can offer remote support during the COVID-19 pandemic here.

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