Navigating the world of online groups and forums
Lots of people feel passionate about the world of online breastfeeding support. It’s easy to recognise the value. I’m a member of several groups myself, I’ve been an admin in an online breastfeeding support group. Mother to mother support is so important. Many of us have found groups immensely helpful. There’s no doubt for me these online communities save breastfeeding relationships in a world where breastfeeding support groups, and even other breastfeeding parents can sometimes be thin on the ground.
The admin teams of good online support groups are amazing too, they give up so much of their time, for free, to support women. It is an incredibly generous thing to do.
An online support group should ideally be a complement to, not instead of, in real life, face to face support. The best groups know this, and you will often see those asking things like “do you have a local breastfeeding support group?” or “have you thought about seeing an IBCLC?”
Online we often don’t have the full picture of what is going on for somebody. Many of us may have also been unknowingly given ‘advice’ which isn’t always evidence-based when it comes to breastfeeding. And when we start to pass that ‘advice’ onwards, that can be a problem.
Examples of commonly heard phrases in online support groups which may be detrimental to another’s feeding journey:
- “A gain is a gain, don’t worry about the charts- they are based on formula fed babies anyway” (Incorrect, charts in the UK have been based on breastfed babies for years now, and a gain, unfortunately, is not just what’s important, lower than average gains over a consistent period of time = faltering growth and failure to thrive).
- “Breastfeeding really hurts at the start but just power through!” (Imagine you are a mum with severe nipple damage hearing this).
- “Just feed, feed, feed” (What happens if that baby isn’t producing enough wet and dirty nappies? Or has faltering growth? Most of the time cluster feeding is normal, but we need to be sure we have the whole picture).
- “I used formula top ups/bottles/dummies/weaned early and it was fine! No effect on my supply at all!”
So how, as mothers, do we protect our breastfeeding relationship while still making use of the support and information from an online group?
Identifying a good online breastfeeding support group and making the most of it- 10 tips!
1. If you are seeking breastfeeding support consider the audience. Is this a breastfeeding specific support group? If not, the responses you will get will be wide-ranging and reflect the nature of the group, and not everyone will feel positively about breastfeeding. Are they selling a service, or affiliated with a brand name? If so, consider the information you get might not be impartial. This is particularly true for parenting groups affiliated with infant formula or baby food companies.
2. Ask for evidence if you feel unsure. Never take something at face value, especially if it doesn’t feel ‘right’. There are evidence-based sources out there you can check in with too, a reliable source will be run by a national body like a breastfeeding charity or in some cases a lactation consultant. Alternatively, the national helplines are on hand to talk things through with.
3. Who are the group admins? Are they active? Are there enough of them for the size and activity level of the group? Do you see them addressing misinformation regularly? Importantly- are they nice? Do they treat the members with respect? All of these points are important for keeping groups a positive place to be.
4. If it is a breastfeeding support group, are the admin trained peer supporters or above? If the admin running the group aren’t trained in breastfeeding it might be wise to be a bit wary, as they may not have the knowledge base to know the good from the bad.
5. Is it a closed group, and do you have to go through a screening process to get into the group? If you are going to discuss intimate details of your life, make sure they don’t let any old random into the group. Some popular parenting websites use an open forum format, where anyone can comment or join in, and the results are searchable and completely open to the public. It is worth considering if that is a safe environment to get breastfeeding information.
6. Do they have group rules? Do they seem well thought out? Are the rules enforced?
7. This might be a controversial point, but it is something I feel is important. If we undermine health care professionals in an open forum we breed distrust among breastfeeding parents when it comes to their healthcare. This, in turn, means we see people disengaging with their healthcare services, and this isn’t always a good thing. Nurses, doctors, dentists, and health visitors can also be participants in the group, seeking breastfeeding support themselves. It’s nice to be nice. So thinking about this point, is the group generally respectful towards health care professionals?
Health care professionals are people who take a lot of responsibility for child health if we aren’t in the consultation we do not know the full picture, and we do not know how what was actually said was interpreted or understood. A good group will ensure the members pass on evidenced-based information without insulting the mother’s health care team, and if they are concerned by the actions of a HCP they will pass on details of the appropriate channels to pursue a complaint.
8. If you have a lactation consultant or are already under the care of a real life breastfeeding specialist, remember they are absolutely best placed to support you effectively. It can be sensible to think twice before you throw out a plan from a professional based on advice you get online. Remember you can always go back to discuss it with the trained person supporting you.
9. What rules are in place about recommending other groups? Some support groups will have recommended groups which they know are safe. If there is a free for all around groups, those groups suggested may not be totally evidenced based. It might be worth asking the admin for their opinion on the groups they prefer.
10. Finally, use normal internet caution within a group. Don’t post identifying information, be cautious with your photos, even with a well-run group, trolls can infiltrate.
Make sure that when you are out there in the big wide internet world of breastfeeding support, you keep yourself safe, and remember you are the advocate for your baby-so if in doubt- check it out with a reputable source or seek out a trained breastfeeding professional.
Breastfeeding helplines and websites
Your health visitor or midwife should know details of local groups in your area, or you can search here for information on your local group.
- National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453
- La Leche League – 0345 120 2918
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – 0300 330 0700
- The Breastfeeding Network and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers provide breastfeeding support and information.
- La Leche League offers mother-to-mother support with breastfeeding.
- LCGB can help you find a local IBCLC
- The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is a charity that provides information and support on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood via their branches and helpline (above)
- Best Beginnings have a wealth of information about breastfeeding premature babies.
- Breastfeeding Twins & Triplets have a brilliant website and a supportive Facebook group for breastfeeding parents of multiples
- UK Association for Milk Banking can help you with enquiries about donated milk or becoming a milk donor.