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03.04.2020 | Insight

Women Supporting Women: Breastfeeding Peer Support During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Millie Ghinn

How are women receiving support and information regarding breastfeeding during the coronavirus pandemic?

There have been many concerns among the population of breastfeeding women about whether it is safe to continue to breastfeed, if they are suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19. At times like this, women look to peer support networks online to find the answers to their concerns.

Social media is a key tool for peer support networks to reach women, with both Twitter and Facebook commonly used to create an online presence for these groups.

Which peer support networks are women looking to for advice?

Peer support networks are run either as an organisation or by an individual, with both types providing useful and relevant information. In light of COVID-19, I have taken a look at the advice these groups have been communicating with their networks and the external sources they are referencing.

Type 1: Peer Support organisations

BfN: The Breastfeeding Network aims to be an independent source of support and information for breastfeeding women in the UK. The BfN has been using its twitter account to highlight the Coronavirus section of their website, signposting women to the COVID-19 FAQ section.

The BfN provides answers to frequently asked questions such as ‘Can I breastfeed if I have COVID-19?’ by providing information from the latest guidelines published by various global organisations such as The World Health Organisation (WHO).

Mumsnet is an online public forum where women can ask pregnancy and parenting related questions to the public. Many women have taken to mumsnet to ask and answer concerns about breastfeeding with Coronavirus.

On the 7th March 2020 a member asked “Will it be safe to breastfeed if I catch corona?”, with other members of the community providing their own personal advice as well as providing information sources providing guidance. In answer to the question, one member replied “La Leche League advice is to keep breastfeeding”.

La Leche League aims to support women worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information and education. La Leche League has used social media as a key resource in distribution of its latest information. The organisation publicly shares advice from WHO and local governments.

The key message across all of La Leche League’s social media platforms is “you can continue to breastfeed your baby through #coronavirus”.

Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (LCGB) provide breastfeeding and infant feeding support and education whilst promoting evidence-based practice and implementation of national guidelines.

The group uses Facebook to inform their community of WHO guidance stating “the virus does not seem to carry in blood or milk, so there is no need to stop, or avoid breastfeeding for fear of COVID-19”.

LCGB have also produced their own ‘key messages’ including:

  • If you are breastfeeding, keep breastfeeding
  • Your baby needs breast milk – now, more than ever

Type 2: Individuals using blogs or personal accounts for peer support

This Parenting Thing is a UK based breastfeeding and parenting support page on Facebook overseen by a mother using guidelines from the NHS, Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to produce easily to read and understand information for women.

Guidance from This Parenting Thing includes “there is no evidence that the virus is passed via breastmilk” and “if a breastfeeding woman becomes ill it is important not to interrupt direct breastfeeding as the baby…will benefit most from the protection of continued direct breastfeeding”.

The Milk Meg is a blog style breastfeeding support Facebook page run by a mother in Australia. Meg posts the latest information from WHO as well as producing her own infographics to present key information to women.

Meg reiterates that information and research is changing “daily, even hourly” but provides an overall summary of key principles for women with COVID-19. Meg’s key message to women with Coronavirus is in line with all of the other peer support networks – “If you can keep breastfeeding…keep breastfeeding #breastfeedingduringcovid19”.

Shari Crisco is a certified nurse midwife in the United States running a blog style Facebook page to provide parenting advice and information to women including breastfeeding support. Shari has been providing information from other resources such as La Leche League, and has been encouraging women to “keep breastfeeding” throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Key messages across Peer Support Networks:

The key messages running through all of the peer support networks are in line with guidance published by the WHO and encourages women to do the following if diagnosed with COVID-19:

  • Continue breastfeeding as breastmilk contains antibodies to help provide immunity to baby
  • Wash hands
  • Wear a mask whilst feeding or holding your baby

A challenge facing health communicators in this pandemic is getting relevant messages to the people who need it. Creating specific messages for niche audiences is a first step, but sharing this content through a single digital channel means the message may get lost. As we have seen from the behaviours of these breastfeeding PSNs, who shared WHO and NHS breastfeeding guidelines, an opportunity is to direct specific messages straight to niche audiences by collaborating with each other.

For more discussion about this research, and advice for health communicators in NGOs and government organisations during COVID-19 pandemic, see our webinar: Coronavirus Digital Communication Strategies for NGOs, Government and Health Policy.

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Meet the Author

Millie Ghinn

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