Q&A with Victoria PrenticePosted October 2, 2019
Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Coordinator- WIC Program
How long have you worked with CEO? What is your role?
I’ve worked with CEO for six and a half years as a peer counselor with the WIC program. I am currently in a new role as the Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Coordinator, and will be working up to 19 hours a week. I counsel mothers, and provide guidance to the other Peer Counselor. (In December I will be with CEO for 7 Years)
The hours are based on the mothers’ needs. I’m available for mothers’ breastfeeding needs; I always have my phone on me and am always available for mothers when they have questions. A lot of health insurance companies allow patients a breastfeeding liaison about once a month, but the demand is actually much larger than that. The Peer Counselor role allows me to speak with mothers throughout their pregnancy and after the baby is born.
How did you end up in this line of work?
I had a really bad breastfeeding experience. I started out as a client of the breastfeeding support group. After I gave birth to my son, I didn’t really get a lot of support. I was given a handout on breastfeeding, and that was it. I Googled and found the breastfeeding support group here at CEO WIC in Troy. They had a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor position open when my son turned nine weeks old, and I applied for it. I’ve only lived locally for one year of the seven years that I’ve had this job. I lived in Pittsfield for a while, and now my commute from Lake George is an hour and 15 minutes but I feel very dedicated to the mothers I work with. I love my job.
How many mothers do you work with?
Currently there are 173 breastfeeding mothers in WIC’s caseload, and I have 90 on my caseload. The caseload is shared by two peer counselors. I work with the mothers a lot via phone calls, but I also have office hours based on the mothers’ needs.
During phone calls I help mothers understand benefits of breastfeeding and some issues that may occur, including latching, initiation of breastfeeding at the hospital, supply, and demand, and most of all we are here to help prevent problems that may occur and let them know they are not alone and I am here to support them!
In addition to the mothers on my caseload, the Breastfeeding Peer Counselors meet mothers at Burdett Birth Center. We meet bottle-fed and breastfed babies on Mondays and Fridays for extra support and to help educate new mothers and make referrals to WIC if they are not on the program and meet eligibility requirements.
Where do you meet with participants?
I have an office on the second floor of the CEO JLB Community Resource Center, within the WIC office. I’m able to meet mothers in my office, and we also host the breastfeeding support group in the office. We also have a private breastfeeding room.
What do you typically counsel participants on?
It varies greatly depending on where they are in their breastfeeding journey.
I’ve contacted a mother as early as five weeks pregnant, and worked with a mother who has been breastfeeding for three years, each have different concerns.
With pregnant mothers we talk about the benefits of breastfeeding and we also go over the breastfeeding birth plan, breastfeeding goals, and breastfeeding supporters in the household. For a lot of the moms in our community, sometimes WIC is the only breastfeeding support she has in her life. She may be a first generation breast feeder, so she needs a lot education on the facts around breastfeeding. We are here to support her decision, and we invite mom and her family to the breastfeeding support group. We ask about older children in the household, and provide ideas on how to educate them on breastfeeding. We have coloring pages, and scripts to help with educating the whole family on breastfeeding.
Our Peer Counselors will be calling mom a lot more frequently right before birth. They’ll be discussing the importance of skin to skin, and talking to mom about what feeding cues look like. We also ask her if she has any last minute questions. We want to make sure that she knows to contact the counselors at any point if she has questions or needs support; reminding her that breastfeeding shouldn’t feel painful. It can feel new, but should not hurt. Lastly, we always encourage mom that she can handle this, and that she “has it”.
After the baby arrives, we ask about latch establishment, and if she’s pumping at all. We like to ask how the other family members or siblings are adjusting to the new baby. We will also talk about growth spurts and cluster feeding, normal feeding patterns, and expressing and storing breastmilk. Peer Counselors will ask if the mother has made her WIC appointment, and try to meet with her during that time.
It’s important for whoever is doing this to make sure that we don’t push breastfeeding, but rather support it. We provide information on weaning, and are also there to support during that time period. Continuity of care is very important to us as well. We are connected with the WIC staff and communicate frequently about participant needs.
We also do referrals out to other community partners, Health Care Providers for issues that may require medical attention, or internal referrals at CEO for other services like YouthBuild, VITA, Head Start, or the Food Pantry.
Can you tell me more about the breastfeeding support group?
The breastfeeding support group meets every third Thursday on the second floor of CRC at WIC from 4:30pm to 6pm. All are invited to come. Peer Counselors encourage the moms on their caseload to attend support group. We do trivia, we educate, we have an open forum for mothers who are breastfeeding to meet peers. You never know what you can teach another mom about breastfeeding. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the breastfeeding community. We have moms that travel as far as Hoosick Falls to join in this support group.
It is also a free support group open to the public, participants do not need to be a part of the WIC program. I have some moms that no longer breastfeed, but attend and can offer wisdom and hindsight. The most recent topics at the group: ideas for getting your family to support you on your breastfeeding journey, preparing for going back to work or school, maintaining your breastmilk supply.
Can you tell me about WIC’s Breast Pump Program?
The CEO WIC program offers manual pumps, personal electric pumps and hospital grade pumps to mothers based on the mother’s need. The WIC Nutrition staff will do a breast pump assessment with mom to determine which type of pump, if any, would be best. The main goal of the pump program is to ensure that mom will meet her breastfeeding goals and have a successful breastfeeding experience.
What is your favorite part of your job?
When I meet with a mother it is usually during a low part of postpartum where she feels very vulnerable, and feels like she is at the end of her journey, but at the end of our visit she has way more confidence. When I check up with her a couple of days later she is doing great.
When a mother comes back and requests me for another pregnancy because they liked the service I was able to provide is another high point of my job. I’ve worked with some mothers through three pregnancies, and that partnership is very meaningful. It’s an honor to see a mother through three years of breastfeeding.