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Leaders and Peer Counselors:
Differences and Similarities

Barbara Cincilla
Peer Counselor Program Training Administrator
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 4, August-September 2000, pp. 74-75

The scientific research that confirms breastfeeding as the optimal method of nourishing and nurturing infants has increased worldwide breastfeeding promotion. These efforts have created an ever-increasing need for breastfeeding information, support and protection for mothers everywhere.

Studies of the effectiveness of the help LLL offers indicate that mothers in touch with LLL differ in many ways from mothers who are not involved with LLL. Mothers who are in contact with LLL tend to:

  • Breastfeed longer,
  • Wean more gradually,
  • Be more knowledgeable about breastfeeding,
  • Introduce solid foods later,
  • Be more likely to wean to a cup than a bottle,
  • Be less concerned with schedules,
  • Be more "in tune" with baby's needs,
  • Have fewer stated concerns about milk supply,
  • Demonstrate confidence and self-determination,
  • Be better able to withstand criticism.
Help provided in a small- group, neighborhood setting has been shown to have the greatest positive impact on the success of breastfeeding.

There are many reasons why a mother or group of mothers may not avail themselves of the education, support, information and encouragement LLL provides through its traditional Groups and Leaders. It may be the result of situations that are psychosocial, economic or geographic in nature. A mother from a cultural environment which differs greatly from the local established LLL Group may not feel comfortable discussing something as intimate as breastfeeding within that Group. Some mothers don't have a telephone; many don't have money to pay dues, buy books or pay for transportation to meetings. If a mother lives in a rural area, the closest LLL Group may be many miles away.

Despite a mother's lack of contact with LLL, her baby still has the same need for the security, warmth and optimal nourishment of breastfeeding. To succeed at breastfeeding most mothers need the help and encouragement that only another nursing mother can provide.

In keeping with the mission of LLLI, "To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, education, information and encouragement and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother," the LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program (BPCP) was launched at the 1987 LLLI Conference in Chicago. "To reduce infant mortality and morbidity by increasing the rate and duration of breastfeeding among breastfeeding resource-deprived populations" is its mission.

The BPCP will celebrate ten years of outreach at the 1997 LLLI Conference in Washington DC. The program has experienced much growth and development since its inception. Because Leaders seem to want and need more information about the BPCP, the most frequently asked questions are answered here.

What is the difference between LLL Leaders and Breastfeeding Peer Counselors?

Both Leaders and Breastfeeding Peer Counselors:

  • Have an enthusiasm for breastfeeding,
  • Have a desire to help other mothers discover the joys of breastfeeding,
  • Help mothers through telephone counseling and one-to-one counseling at support group meetings or through home or hospital visits,
  • Are members of LLLI,
  • Have access to LLL continuing education workshops, Area and International conferences,
  • Receive ongoing information and technical assistance through LLLI,
  • Have the opportunity to network with appropriate LLL personnel.

They differ in these ways: LLL Leaders

  • Have breastfed a baby for at least one year and practiced mothering through breastfeeding including natural weaning,
  • Are usually self-referred to LLL,
  • Are responsible for helping any mothers who contact them,
  • Have been accredited by LLLI through the Leader Accreditation Department,
  • Act as volunteers for a nonprofit organization,
  • Balance family needs with the needs of the mothers they serve,
  • Report monthly to their District Advisor,
  • Are representatives of LLLI,
  • Are covered by LLLI Leader liability insurance,
  • Lead monthly Series Meetings,
  • Are responsible for staying current with the latest breastfeeding information, research and management techniques,
  • Pay Leader dues annually.

Breastfeeding Peer Counselors

  • Have breastfed a baby for about six months (may have limited breastfeeding experience),
  • Have usually been recruited into the BPCP,
  • Are responsible for promoting breastfeeding and helping mothers in a neighborhood or area assigned by the BPCP Administrator or an agency,
  • Have successfully completed the BPCP training course,
  • May work as volunteers or be paid by an agency,
  • If employed by an agency, are mindful of their obligation to the needs of that employer,
  • Report monthly and as requested to the BPCP Administrator and/or employer,
  • Are not representatives of LLLI,
  • Are not covered by LLLI liability insurance,
  • Do not lead LLL Series Meetings but may lead breastfeeding support meetings at an agency,
  • Stay current with the latest in breastfeeding information, research and management techniques under the supervision of the BPCP Administrator or agency,
  • Are members of LLLl.

What does a BPCP Administrator do?

All aspects of a local LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program are the responsibility of the Program Administrator. This may include both designing the local program and obtaining funding for it. Other responsibilities may include recruiting Peer Counselors; training and ongoing education for the Peer Counselors and cooperating agency personnel; reporting to an agency, source of funding and LLLI; keeping current with the latest in breastfeeding information, research and management techniques.

How does one become a BPCP Administrator?

An LLL Leader, physician, nurse, nutritionist, dietitian, social worker or other health agency staff member who has

  • demonstrated commitment to helping mothers in breastfeeding resource-deprived communities;
  • at least one year of experience counseling breastfeeding mothers and helping promote, protect and support breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers;
  • experience running an LLL Group or other administrative experience
may request an application from the LLLI Outreach Department for training as an LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Administrator.

Candidates will successfully complete a Program Administrator Assessment Exam and attend a 26-hour Program Administrator Training Workshop.

Are all peer counseling programs which use the services of an LLL Leader LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Programs?

No. In order to be called an LLLI Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program and to use the LLLI BPCP logo, the program must be run by an administrator who has successfully completed the LLLI BPCP Administrator Training Workshop. The BPCP Administrator maintains responsibility for quality control of the project. Therefore, the program uses only accurate, up-to-date materials authorized by the LLLI Outreach Department Manager. The program's Peer Counselors are trained using the LLLI copyrighted BPCP curriculum. Peer Counselors are members of LLLI. They receive appropriate ongoing supervision and education under the direction of the BPCP Administrator who reports to LLLI's Outreach Manager.

For more information on the La Leche League International Peer Counselor Program, please contact a Training Administrator near you:

Kathy Baker -- Illinois:

Barbara Cincilla -- New Jersery: Barbara Cincilla

Nancy March -- California:

Beverly Spencer -- Metro Washington, DC:

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