A recent study showed that utilizing a peer counselor increases the length of time breastfeeding is maintained among premature infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Mothers in the randomized trial, conducted in an inner-city hospital, all indicated a desire to breastfeed and had similar sociodemographic characteristics. Their infants were born between 26 and 37 weeks' gestation (average, 32 weeks) and were otherwise healthy.
The 108 mother-infant pairs were divided into two groups. The intervention group received peer support; the control group, standard care. Women in the intervention group met with a peer counselor for at least 30 minutes within 72 hours after giving birth. After the face-to-face meeting, the peer counselor stayed in contact with the mother every week for six weeks. Peer counselors, who were drawn from the community, had breastfeeding experience, were trained at a five-day breastfeeding course, and were instructed at the hospital in NICU procedures and breastfeeding techniques. Peer counselors primarily discussed pumping technique and helped mothers pump and breastfeed.
Women in the control group were given a referral to a lactation consultant when needed and could use a pump in the hospital. They also had access to three breastfeeding classes a week, a staff highly trained in lactation management, and a high-grade electric breast pump for home use.
Commentary Peer counselors had the advantage of being perceived as colleagues by the babies' mothers. In addition, unlike nurses and physicians in the NICU, the counselors were able to devote time exclusively to promoting breastfeeding. What a great gift for these infants and their mothers!