Immersive Labs gives its employees two paid volunteering days a year. Amy Millard, Associate Cloud Engineer, tells us how she plans to spend them to support struggling parents in her local community.
When my son was just a couple of weeks old, I needed some breastfeeding help. My midwife signposted me to Feeding Friends, a breastfeeding support group at my local health clinic. Many years later, my son fully weaned and my breastfeeding skills further put into practice thanks to having two other babies, I saw a social media post asking for volunteers to help the group.
I jumped at the chance to repay the kindness and help I’d received, and I took an eight week training course to become a Peer Supporter. The course was funded by South Gloucestershire Council and run by Barnardo’s qualified Breastfeeding Counsellor.
The course armed me with new skills such as active listening, latch positioning tips, a wealth of knowledge on all things breastmilk, and how to sensitively bust breastfeeding myths – no, drinking fizzy drinks doesn’t make milk fizzy. I signed an agreement with Barnardo’s and committed myself to volunteering my time as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter with Feeding Friends for at least 12 months.
For the next two years (only stopping due to the pandemic), I spent every Monday morning at my local Feeding Friends group, often referred to as Breastfeeding Club, where it was agreed that the first rule of breastfeeding club was TO talk about breastfeeding club.
Along with other Peer Supporters, I assisted the Breastfeeding Counsellor in hosting the sessions. We supported and offered help to anywhere from 5 to 25 mothers with their babies of differing ages – on many occasions we would see babies less than a week old.
We observed latching issues, offered tips and tricks to ease discomfort, listened to worries about milk supply (lack of and oversupply), comforted overwhelmed mothers, and tried our best to answer any and all questions, no matter now trivial or perceived ridiculous. We provided an empathetic ear and shoulder to cry on, offering words of comfort, guidance, and always a drink and snack.
Volunteering there was an immensely rewarding experience. I’ve seen mothers (and some fathers) walk into the group feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, vulnerable, frustrated, and crying, only for them to walk out smiling, confident, and feeling heard.
With all the cuts to healthcare at the time, it was a valuable service used by so many who were struggling to feed their babies. Many would return week after week just for the social aspect of the group but also to seek help when the next stage of development (weaning etc.) kicked in. It was lovely to see the babies grow, crawl, and eventually walk. And many parents returned with second, third, and sometimes fourth babies!
I was immensely proud when Feeding Friends, along with all the other local breastfeeding support groups run by Barnardo’s, were nominated for and subsequently won a Queen’s Award for Volunteering (MBE for groups). We all received a Queen’s Award badge and had a ceremony with the Queen’s representative, where we were presented with a fancy glass award and certificate.
Immersive Labs gives its employees two (paid!) volunteering days a year to go out and help their local communities. Although my local breastfeeding club hasn’t yet re-opened after lockdown, there are plenty of other groups still in operation, and I look forward to using my volunteering days to put my Peer Supporter hat back on to support some parents on their breastfeeding journey.
Find more information on the Barnardo’s breastfeeding groups here: http://www.breastfeedingsouthglos.co.uk/about-uscontact.html