Campaigning legacy: 60 years of speaking out for parents

This guest blog comes from NCT London Regional Coordinator and #HiddenHalf champion, Fiona Doyle.

Six decades of campaigning for change

Since its inception in 1956, NCT has been a pioneer in giving parents information about childbirth and parenting and has been instrumental in achieving important legislative and policy changes in maternity care and been a strong advocate for the issues faced by families over the past 60 years. These changes are evident in our own experiences of birth and parenthood today. The first and probably most obvious one is the introduction of the first antenatal classes in 1959, which are now attended by tens of thousands of parents each year.

Better births

Then in the 1960s NCT led a campaign to allow fathers in the delivery room. It’s hard to believe that before then, it was widely accepted that fathers had no place at the birth of their own child.

In the 1980s, an NCT antenatal teacher pioneered the Know Your Midwife scheme in England which helped to shape changes in how midwives can make the greatest contribution to the health and wellbeing of women, babies and families. NCT has also continually lobbied government to change unnecessary interventions during birth, including changes in the mid-1980s to stop the shaving of pubic hair and administering enemas during childbirth. I didn’t know that either, but I’m bloody relieved!

You wouldn’t have been able to eat and drink during labour before NCT campaigned to change this. Pre-1980s, 40% of consultants banned women from ingesting food during the labour process.

Making policy work for women and families

And the list goes on. NCT has been instrumental in influencing laws and decisions regarding public breastfeeding, banning harmful BPA chemicals in baby bottles and access to food and milk vouchers for pregnant women under 18.

NCT helped set up Maternity Services Liaison Committees (now Maternity Voices Partnerships) across the UK to give a voice to women wanting to have a say in their birth experience. NCT also ran the Better Birth Environment campaign to make sure women in labour had freedom of movement, en suite bathroom facilities and provision for their partners to stay with them overnight. In addition to this, NCT contributed to Changing Childbirth and Maternity Matters, previous government strategies to allow women to have more control and choice over where they gave birth. They lobbied the government in 2010 to call for changes in maternity and paternity leave.

Next steps…

With all of this behind us, it’s only right that the #HiddenHalf campaign has become the latest success story in NCT’s amazing history. All of the changes that have taken place over the last 60 years started as ideas, thoughts and plans – perhaps just from one person or a small group and snowballed from there. The changes stemmed from people taking action and wanting to make things better so that others wouldn’t have to suffer.

 #HiddenHalf is now following in the footsteps of those NCT campaigners and supporters who have brought about real, tangible results which have affected the way we live today. Our campaigning can now be done through online promotion, surveys, social media hashtags, YouTube channels and emailing MPs. It can also be done through local events, sharing experiences and raising awareness in local communities.

The wave effect is a powerful one and #HiddenHalf has had an ocean of people behind it. It is thanks to all of these people – all of you who emailed, tweeted, shared and posted online, voiced your support at meetings, visited your local MP, held fundraising events, donated to the charity – all of these actions, small and large, have meant that NCT’s incredible legacy of supporting parents and fighting for change successfully continues.  NCT’s founder, Prunella Briance, is often quoted but her words ring particularly true as we celebrate the success of #Hiddenhalf: “I realised that someone had to do something, and so I did.” We all did. Thank you for helping to make #Hiddenhalf happen.

Five principles of perinatal peer support

By Laura Wood

Laura Wood has written extensively about her own experiences of perinatal mental health. In 2016, she was part of the external advisory group for our Parents in Mind peer support programme. Here she talks about her involvement developing perinatal mental health peer support principles with Mind and the McPin Foundation.


Peer support that promotes the emotional wellbeing of new parents has long been one of the key values that NCT is known for, and the Parents in Mind project has enhanced this, providing mum-to-mum support for women experiencing low mood, anxiety or poor mental health during pregnancy or postnatally. As a member of the advisory group for Parents in Mind, I witnessed the joys – and the challenges – of delivering this support in a way that was safe, accessible, and helpful for everybody.

NCT was able to share some of the lessons learned from creating Parents in Mind, contributing to the co-design of the new perinatal peer support principles. I’m one of three lived experience facilitators who worked with staff from Mind and McPin Foundation to produce guidance that would support people to create and deliver peer support that truly meets the needs of women affected by mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy. We held three consultation events, in Birmingham, London and Newcastle, and three focus groups in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Online surveys were available for people who couldn’t attend. We spoke to mums and families, midwives and health visitors, people working in clinical perinatal mental health services, charities and other organisations facilitating peer support for parents… anyone with relevant experience. We invited people from as many under-represented groups as we could. McPin also did some interviews with perinatal peer support providers, including NCT, to discuss the logistics of offering such support in more depth.

The result is five principles accompanied by explanatory notes and reflective prompts to get people to think about how they can be met whether you’re online, half a dozen mums in someone’s living room, or a large organisation like NCT. Using this guidance will help to ensure that your peer support is safe, inclusive, informed, that it benefits everyone involved, and remains distinct from – but connected to – clinical perinatal mental health services. You can access the principles online, along with a more detailed report about the findings, via the website for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

I hope that these principles will make safe, welcoming, nurturing peer support accessible to more mums who need it. I believe that they will as lived experience has been at the heart of the project. Because the principles were co-created with women and families who have lived through perinatal mental health difficulties, they are shaped around their needs, not what others imagine those needs to be.

My own experience has informed the work. In 2014, I emerged from a psychiatric mother and baby unit, dazed and scared, and was promptly dropped by the community mental health team. It was other mums who pulled me through, namely my friend Hayley from NCT classes and everyone who participated in Rosey Adams’ #PNDFamily on social media. I know that peer support, done right, can be lifesaving and can set you up, as a parent, to know and trust yourself and your baby.

The principles have now been developed, tested, and launched. We presented them at Peerfest, Mind’s annual celebration of peer support, in Birmingham on 3rd December and held a workshop with some activities and discussion so that we could all get stuck in. I’m so excited that the principles are ready, and I’m now leading the team in ‘disseminating’ the work – which means making sure that all the wonderful knowledge which people so generously and so enthusiastically shared gets out to where it will be useful. We’ll be touring with more workshops and presentations throughout 2020: drop an email to LivedExp@mind.org.uk to subscribe to our mailing list.


Download the perinatal peer support principles here.

Pre-order Laura’s book on maternal mental health here, and follow her on Twitter @cooksferryqueen.

A tribute to Eileen Hutton

We pay tribute to Eileen Hutton, former Chair and President of NCT who passed away on 5 February 2020. Eileen was very much a promoter of women’s health, autonomy and wellbeing and we’re truly grateful for her commitment to women, childbirth and NCT.

In 1991, NCT gave evidence to the Government’s Health Committee based on our own research about women’s experiences. Eileen, as our President at the time, was then invited to join the Expert Maternity Group with Baroness Cumberlege and they examined the maternity care available in the light of what women wanted. This enshrined the principles of choice, control and continuity of care for all women. The report that followed, Changing Childbirth, was accepted as Government Policy in January 1994.

We would like to send our sincere condolences to all of Eileen’s family.

Eileen Hutton (centre, in peach) with former NCT presidents and founding members at NCT’s 50th anniversary celebration event

Below we share some reflections from those who knew Eileen during her time at NCT. If you’d like to share yours, please contact us.

Memories of Eileen

Julia Cumberlege, Chair of the report Changing Childbirth said:

When I was invited to review maternity services for England in 1993 I was careful to choose a panel of members who I knew would make a useful contribution to our work. Knowing the reputation of involving and listening to women I decided no one could be better than Eileen Hutton the President of NCT. She had her ear to the ground and saw the practicalities or flaws of what we were proposing. Mothers and babies were her life blood. Eileen was a fund of information. She was older than most members of the panel and when there was heated discussion I would look to Eileen and with great care she would resolve the issue, a person of consummate skill, knowledge, experience and charm. Her contribution to maternity services cannot be under estimated and I am sorry that she is no longer with us.

Mary Newburn

Mary Newburn said:

Eileen was an inspiration and mentor to me in my role at NCT. As President for eight continuous years, starting around the time that I joined the staff, she was an influential campaigner; a quiet figure but solid as a rock. Her skills and way of working included always following things up. If an issue was raised, she didn’t let the person with responsibility off the hook. Many people deflect the demands of service users by distractions, spun consciously or unconsciously. Eileen would never be deflected. She always read all of the papers before a meeting, including many pages of sometimes dry and dreary minutes, and had probing questions to ask. She kept people on their toes. As well as being a ferocious detail person, she saw the bigger picture. She was good strategically, gathering the views and experiences of women to put to those in power. She also made a huge contribution to NCT’s internal development and, critically, ensuring that the charity was effective in shaping the future of maternity services. As a member of the government’s Expert Maternity Group which created the government’s Changing Childbirth policy (1993), she worked with Professor Lesley Page, the chair, Baroness Julia Cumberlege and other leaders in the maternity field to produce a ground-changing blueprint for maternity that put women at the centre of care. We are still working on getting the vision implemented, but the vision is clear.

Roxanne Chamberlain said:

My memory of Eileen was of a very calm person who had a will of iron. She worked so hard for parents and NCT and helped bring in user involvement in the maternity services and eventually into the whole NHS.

Nina Smith
Nina Smith

Nina Smith interviewed Eileen as part of NCT’s Oral History project in October 2013.

Towards the end of the interview I asked what she felt she had contributed to NCT and what NCT had given to her. She replied:

“I hope I gave the idea of representing women, I mean rather than professionals. And I always tried to be honest and straight forward about things………[NCT gave me] a lot of satisfaction and we did achieve things, and a great deal of support………At times it was difficult because of having young children who didn’t always want you going away. But fascinating, because I did travel a lot and meet a lot of people and satisfying to think that I was representing a lot of women’s views and needs.’

Certainly what comes through is Eileen’s genuine concern for women and that they should be listened to if needs are to be properly met, and also her dedication and commitment to working for NCT as an organisation.

Gillian Fletcher MBE, NCT President 2000- 2005 shared:

What an amazing woman Eileen was. She had such a quiet gentle nature. She was a really good listener and then would be able to offer such wise insights into any discussions we would be having on Teacher’s Panel and other NCT committees and on a personal level too. She was very supportive to me when I was first elected as NCT President. Some years before, I had the privilege of getting to know her better when we travelled together to ‘The Free Woman’ conference in Amsterdam in 1989. We were both very touched by something the Canadian Obstetrician Murray Enkin had included in his speech about ‘Care during pregnancy being both Art and Science- Art being those essential but unmeasurable components of care that count even though they cannot be counted.’ – so pertinent to the work of NCT.

I also remember Julia Cumberlege telling me that when they were visiting hospitals together as part of the work of the Expert Maternity Group, Eileen would listen quietly to the staff waxing lyrical about all their maternity services had to offer and then she would say quietly’ Could we see the bathrooms now please’.

Eileen was always a champion for women’s experiences informing the way maternity care is designed and developed.  She was most supportive of all we, at NCT, were doing to support Maternity Services Liaison Committees (MSLCs) as they were called at the time. She spread that influence by highlighting the importance of listening to patients’ voices during her time as Chair of the RCGP working with other Royal Colleges when Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) was quite new to the NHS.

Sylvia McGinnis, former teacher said:

So sorry to hear that Eileen Hutton died. She was President when I was Chair of Teachers’ Panel. She wholeheartedly inhabited that role and travelled the UK sounding out mothers to ascertain their needs vis-a-vis the NCT. She was a firm supporter of Panel and its autonomy from Council. She will be sorely missed.

Noreen Hart (in pink) with Eileen Hutton (in yellow) and others at Maternity Matters march in Bath

Noreen Hart, NCT practitioner recalls:

In Bath we had a Maternity Matters march in 2007, with mothers, fathers, babies, children and grandparents, midwives and politicians all good humouredly marching through the streets of Bath highlighting the national shortage of midwives, the continual government cuts and to demonstrate our support for all those hard working committed midwives. Eileen Hutton OBE, a former President of the NCT, marched with us and then  spoke to the crowd about the need to continue to put the parents at the centre of care and how this can only be achieved with more midwives.

New Generation, NCT members magazine feature

From bag stuffing to speaking in parliament

Oh the places volunteering takes you! We celebrate International Day of the Volunteer on 5 December with a blog by a much-loved volunteer. Fiona Doyle is a spokesperson for us, Regional Coordinator in London, newly-elected Chair of the Regional Volunteers Support Network and #HiddenHalf Champion.

I first became involved with NCT through doing antenatal classes. I’m a single parent and was really nervous about going. But everyone was so lovely and supportive, which really surprised me. My impression of NCT beforehand was that it was quite an elitist thing… and full of yummy mummies… which I definitely am not!

I suffered quite badly with postnatal depression (PND) for the first two years, however towards the end of this period, I decided I wanted to get involved in some way, as I’d had such a positive experience myself from supportive volunteers.

I saw an advert in my local NCT branch magazine (Haringey) for a Tea Host and got in touch. It turned out the branch co-ordinator was looking to step down and they offered me the role. So I took a chance and accepted it!

I held the co-ordinator role in Haringey for four years. Towards the end of last year, Melissa Gough-Rundle (Regional Volunteer Manager) approached me and asked me to think about taking on the Regional Coordinator (RC) role for London.

I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities through our charity; I’ve written articles about PND and single parenthood that have been published on Huffpost, Babycentre and The Honest Mum; I’ve been interviewed for Channel 5 News; I was able to get involved in the #Hiddenhalf campaign and speak at the Houses of Parliament. I’ve also met many lovely people through volunteering. So it made sense to me to make the move up to RC role and see what the next adventure would bring!

I would say the main reasons I’ve volunteered with NCT for so long are because I feel like I’ve found an organisation that really values my efforts and input. I’ve met so many people through volunteering. Everyone makes you feel like you’re making a difference and that they appreciate you.

I’m self-employed so don’t have a traditional colleague structure in my work life. NCT provides this too and I really do feel like part of a team. Although the on-the-ground volunteering stuff can be a bit thankless at times – stuffing goodie bags, hauling chairs and tables around church halls – it is so worth it when you see parents attending events making connections with other families and enjoying themselves.

In November of this year, I was elected Chair of the Regional Volunteer Support Network (RVSN). I’m so excited to take on this role. Being part of the RVSN team has been an absolute highlight of my NCT journey. Being able to act as a link between other volunteers, like me, and all the other areas of the charity has been extremely rewarding. I feel like I can make a difference on a more strategic level as well as still volunteering in my local branch.

I never thought volunteering would take me to the places it has or as far as it has. It really does go to show what a special charity NCT is.

Buzz of co-production satisfaction

By Naomi Gill, Capacity PSA, Service Support and Improvement Specialist for ourNCTservices projects

I’m a new face to the Knowledge and Service Development team, and it’s still wearing a smile – reflecting on the seriously productive day spent at the paid for 1:1 breastfeeding co-production team pilot review meeting in Birmingham at the end of September. My addition to the team is a complimentary role to my other NCT role as a Capacity PSA. It sees me bringing my working knowledge of operational policies, processes and systems to support ourNCTservices projects.

It was comforting to join my friend, colleague and fellow pilot team member Lucy Joyce for the train journey from our home town of Leicester to Birmingham. I first met Lucy nine years ago, when I moved back from London to my home town, heavily pregnant with my first child, at NCT Leicester Branch’s Bumps and Babies group and drop-in. She ran it with my sister. Nine years of ongoing branch involvement for me – including stints in every conceivable branch volunteer role – meant we could enjoy an animated catch-up about work, children and life as we trained it over to Brum.

Hosted by Gowling WLG, in a glass office set amidst an expansive atrium, it was a contrast from the home office environment, apart from perhaps the rain! We had five hours and one packed agenda to tackle:

  • Review timescales and progress
  • Lone worker policy – agree streamlined approach for remainder of the pilot
  • Booking & payment processes – what should we do for the rest of the pilot?
  • Supporting free/subsidised breastfeeding support
  • What’s the difference between a voluntary and paid for visit?

Key team decisions were required. After a thought-provoking warm-up exercise by Sophie where we mind-mapped both our current internal thoughts and preoccupations, as well as our hopes for the day on another – the sharing of which prompted both tears and laughter – I felt we were both bonded and ready for a collaborative day.

The paid for 1:1 breastfeeding support pilot team. Naomi is front and centre.

The meeting really flew by – fuelled by breastfeeding counsellor Louise Oliver’s doughnuts. These kicked off a day of necessary and ongoing refreshment to keep us on track. The discussions were in-depth, with balanced and considered input which propelled us forward to arrive at decisions we needed to make. I felt both personally and professionally welcomed and supported, especially when leading the session on the possibilities for our payment and booking process. Here I showcased a process map and exploration of available alternative systems and processes for the project. Great questions and insightful contributions from all of the team helped us to develop and agree both a SWOT and improvement plan for our existing 18-step process. The energetic session pace was balanced by a reflective discussion around the differences between voluntary and paid for visits, which was fascinating for me as a non-practitioner.

As I smile, I am relishing how the day provided me with a map of a new service growing in different ways and defining itself along the way through dedicated work and thorough analysis. I can still feel that buzz of co-production satisfaction gained from coming together with the group, sharing different experiences and viewpoints and digesting our feedback to make decisions that moved the project forward and planned its future shape. I have always embraced and valued NCT’s co-production ethos – attending ourNCTservices workshops, the Joint Weekend where PSAs and Senior Practitioners (and volunteers) come together – and value of this was only further cemented for me by this round-the-table day meeting.

Useful links:

Bookending my NCT story

By Ann Carrington, Quality Manager

My first involvement with NCT was in 1987 when I booked to attend antenatal classes. And just as my first involvement was because of a baby my decision to leave is also because of a baby – this time my granddaughter – as I will looking after her three days a week when my daughter returns to work next year.

I’ve held many jobs and roles during my time with NCT. I volunteered as a postnatal supporter – and the woman I supported is one of my best friends some 30 years later. I’ve been treasurer to our local teachers’ group in pre-PSA days. I trained as an Antenatal teacher, became an Advanced Teacher (now known as an EP), an Assessor and then a tutor. I was a co-chair of Teachers’ Panel, an Assessor Co-ordinator for two stints and my last role has been as Quality Manager.

It’s been a tremendous experience and I have enjoyed being with parents, practitioners, students, senior practitioners, tutors and other staff members. There have been challenging moments – a couple of Assessor Update weekends spring to mind! But what really shines out for me about NCT is how good we are at collaborative working and the huge amount of support that is offered by peers and colleagues.

During my last few months, I have been involved with the One Antenatal project which feels like a fitting end to my NCT career. I’m the proud possessor of one of the Golden Guinea Pig awards – given to those of us who took part in the first cohort of the BA in Educational Studies. Over the years I’ve seen our training and courses change and adapt to meet the needs of parents. I particularly enjoyed my last few years of teaching when the parents were at the same stage of life as my daughter and son-in-law. Then watching my daughter and son-in-law as they embarked on their NCT journey was fascinating and gave me plenty to think about!

As well as many good friends, my time with NCT has given me so many valuable skills which I intend to continue to put to good use in the future. A local branch of a charity is looking for facilitators for a restorative justice programme…  As I wheel my granddaughter around Balham, I see other grandparents doing the same thing and I wonder about starting a grandparent and baby/toddler group…

The two photos form bookends to my life with NCT. The first is the family photo I included in the portfolio I submitted to Teachers’ Panel to qualify as an Antenatal teacher. The second is a photo of the first time I held my granddaughter.

My peer support journey as a mum of twins

My name is Mary and I am a 46-year-old mum of seven-year-old twin girls.

After several failed attempts at IVF, my husband and I finally fell pregnant in October 2011. Shortly after at our first scan we found out we were expecting twins! My pregnancy was pretty straightforward (apart from double the morning sickness and indigestion) and in June 2012 after a fairly straightforward labour, we welcomed our much longed-for girls into the world.

From the initial point of telling people our good news, to finally getting home after a few days in the special care unit, we had been greeted with genuine excitement and lots of promises of help from both friends and family. However, once the initial euphoria had died down the good “friends” who promised to pop in for a coffee disappeared. Thankfully my husband is self-employed and works from home. So between us we managed night feeds, changing nappies and sleeping when we could. If it were not for his support and grandparents, I am not sure I would have made it through the initial six months with my sanity intact.

Even once I was brave enough to venture out to local play groups on my own, I was still faced with the new mums struggling with their single baby, who would look at me with two and be baffled at how I was coping. Trust me, appearances can be very deceiving and although on the outside I looked like I had it all together, inside I was struggling. Struggling with being a new mum to not one but two babies, taking time to bond with the girls, the feeling of being alone and isolated both at home and at groups and the constant fear of something going wrong after waiting so long for them to become a reality.

Just before the girls’ second birthday we made the decision to move back to Cambridgeshire. We needed a bigger home for the family and knew we had family and friends there that would be able to support us. Sadly, for the first year that help didn’t transpire. The feelings of being lonely and out of my depth continued. Knowing how hard my husband was working to support us all, I felt selfish moaning to him about how I felt.

Thankfully, once we had settled, I discovered a fabulous local group, where I found people who didn’t judge me or shy away from me because I had twins but made me feel welcome. Soon after, the girls started pre-school and then full-time education. My days of being a mum at home alone with them came to an end.

During the summer of 2018 I decided that now the girls were settled at school it was time to start working on me a bit more and to not just identify as “mummy” or “the mum with the twins”. One of the mums from school works for NCT and had mentioned the Birth and Beyond Community Support (BBCS) programme. Given my experiences I decided, after much self-doubt, to bite the bullet and give it a go. After all, what did I have to lose?! I just didn’t realise how much I was going to gain.

The training was an eye-opener for me after so many years out of work and education. I did struggle at times with filling out the workbook and on more than one occasion wanted to quit. However, with the support from the trainers and the other mums on the course I stayed, completed the course and started supporting my first mum shortly after.

We are now about a year on from when I started the BBCS training and I am now supporting my second mum, who has twins too. I also attend a local mums and baby group where I speak about the peer supporters and signpost the facilities we have to any mums who feel they may need that little extra help. I have learnt many new skills along the way and my self-confidence has improved as a result. I’m still the “lady with the twins” but now I am also Mary, the BBCS peer supporter.

Looking back, I wish I had discovered how amazing NCT is when I was pregnant. Knowing what I know now, I think my experiences would have been so much different. The work NCT do and the large range of services and information on offer is, in my opinion, invaluable. With all the mis-advice from well-meaning friends and family and the constant pressures of social media to be a “perfect” mum, having NCT as a voice of reason makes such a big difference.

So finally, if you are in the position I was in and think you would like to help then I cannot stress enough how rewarding the BBCS programme is both to yourself and to the mums that you meet and support along the way.

Opening up the ways we learn

By Vicky Mariner, breastfeeding counsellor and member of ourNCTeducation practitioner reference group

A little over ten years ago, I completed my level 5 training as a breastfeeding counsellor. I loved the cosy tutorial groups and formed close friendships with my fellow trainees. Karen (our lovely tutor) had a box of books we could borrow in the corner. We had stimulating discussions, shared mini-presentations and were given plenty of paper handouts. 

Last year I completed a level 5 in Learning and Development with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The revolution which has taken place over the last ten years in learning and training is astonishing. E-learning, m-learning, digital learning platforms, social learning, blended learning, LMS, CMS, MOOCS and a whole host of other confusing acronyms – it’s a brand new language! 

Foundations of human learning have not changed – our brains don’t actually work differently just because we are in the digital age. E-learning is not automatically more effective just because it is delivered by computer. I must admit my personal experience of e-learning through my day job as a corporate HR Manager has not been positive. When executed poorly it can be boring and ineffective. Many see it as simply a tick box exercise.

But the possibilities… are exciting!

Algorithms taking into account everything, from existing prior experience to how confidently or hesitantly you clicked on an answer, means that programmes can be tailored to each learner’s needs.

There are now so many options available for reading more on a particular topic which grabs your attention. A pop-up links you to the most up–to-date NICE guidelines. Or your own local statistics, an audio podcast, a YouTube video or TEDtalk, a webinar invite, or a discussion on a related forum. And that is before we get to the possibilities of virtual reality or augmented reality. Practice in front of a virtual “live” group of parents anyone? Or instead of a 2D picture of a pregnant woman’s body in a text, you hover your mobile over the page and you can see inside a womb projected right in front of you?

It’s a far cry from the “click > click > next” of the boring clunky e-learning.

Social learning is another huge shift. We know that often the most enjoyable part of a study day is the informal learning which goes on when we swap stories, tips and techniques. When done well this can work effectively digitally as well. Students can set up their own Moodles, Wiki’s and forums and even attend “virtual” coffee mornings. We know that nothing will ever beat the personal, face-to-face touch of really being with other people. We also know that the time and cost of travelling for training sometimes makes the whole endeavour prohibitively expensive. We don’t all live near London or Bristol after all!

As our training of practitioners evolves it is exciting to think how we can harness this new technology. Even via a computer, people learn from people.

It’s great to see how the project team are genuinely looking at how we can utilise these new tools while protecting what is good about the old style of training.

Stay up to date with the latest project news from ourNCTeducation on the project babble page here.

Increasing breastfeeding rates in the Lothians

By Zoe Brown, Breastfeeding Service Project Co-ordinator – Lothian

In at the deep end… Sitting in my car across the road from the community centre, I said to myself “Be brave, it will be ok”. I took one more deep breath, stepped out of the car and crossed the car park. Many new parents have felt this way about going to a breastfeeding group for the first time and today I really was empathising with them.

My role, to set up and coordinate a breastfeeding project in Lothian, was going to target areas where breastfeeding groups didn’t exist and where breastfeeding rates were low. Edinburgh, a beautiful city, famed for its festival, castle, cobbled streets and stunning scenery, has, like most cities, its challenging areas. Often these are the areas which lack support and where breastfeeding rates are at their lowest. Today I was in one of those areas. I was there to meet mums from the area for the first time.

I was welcomed in to the centre. What quickly became clear was how much they cared about their community and how unsupported they felt when breastfeeding. I heard examples of long journeys to access support, using two or more buses to get to groups and minimal support from healthcare professionals. The mums I spoke to hadn’t seen many other mums breastfeeding and felt ‘different’ if they had chosen to breastfeed. Any queries they had addressed to friends were met with a ‘fed is best’ type response or the sense that their baby would do as well on formula as it’s ‘basically the same’. This type of response undermined their confidence in their ability to feed their babies the way they want to.

We can start a group here because we need to, not to address targets or tick boxes but to improve the qualitative experience mums have so they feel valued, important worthy and supported along their breastfeeding journey.

I am passionate about this project. It will make a difference. This will start small but the effects will ripple out, mums will feel better about their breastfeeding journey and have that sense that someone is alongside them, listening and empathising with their journey. They will tell their friends how the empathy, listening and non judgmental approach of the NCT breastfeeding peer supporters empowered them in their breastfeeding journey, and word will get out that NCT is for everyone and we believe in you!

See Zoe speaking on this ITV news feature (1:09)

Find breastfeeding support near you

I thought someone should do something…so I did

Lucy Champion, Breastfeeding Counsellor and member of our Practitioners' Rep Body
Lucy Champion, BFC and PRB member

In May 2018 I received a message via Facebook (of course!) asking if I would like to join the Practitioners’ Rep Body (PRB). I had been quite vocal in the weeks before about a few things and the PRB thought I might like to take on some issues formally. So, channelling my best Prunella, I decided to say yes, so that I could join and try to influence change. One of the biggest areas of interest for me was the use of social media.

I soon found myself in the position of unofficial spokesperson for practitioners around any social media issues and kept in close contact with the Comms team at NCT to share feedback. Over the course of a year we had many honest conversations – not all easy ones – and trialled a collaboration between members of the PRB and the Comms team by having a small Facebook group where we could share ideas, give feedback and make suggestions about NCT’s social media. However, even with this, some social media offerings – particularly around breastfeeding – were upsetting practitioners.

We eventually came to realise that to truly understand the issues and make positive change, we – staff and practitioners together – needed to dedicate time to really drill down into the areas of concern to get it right.  

We already had the updated Infant Feeding Message Framework, but what was missing was more specific clarity on what it all means in practice for NCT’s communications across social media, in print and in digital content for parents. So the Deep Dive Group on infant feeding was born and our collective aim was to create an easy to understand and use guide for staff on all communications about infant feeding.

The process

We met 3 times in total and really thrashed it out. It was hard. It was emotive. There were disagreements. But together we began to understand each other’s perspectives. The hours of discussion meant I got an insight into staff roles and some of the complicated challenges they face and helpfully, learned what their goals actually were – but not just what, but why they were goals. For example, how different social media channels are used to reach different audiences; how different platforms and algorithms make a big difference to the way people engage with content and the careful planning that goes into getting the most value out of these platforms. There’s a lot of factors to consider. But, the way that parents are reached and what speaks to them isn’t always in line with our work as practitioners. This was really hard to accept sometimes but with talking and listening I began to see the importance of NCT voice vs practitioner voice vs parent voice. These are in some (but not all) circumstances quite different and the balancing act that NCT has is really very hard.

During the deep dive process I finally saw real change taking place. Deeper understanding and a mutual respect between all involved, greater appreciation for the Infant Feeding Message Framework and even a complete change in direction on some views of what NCT ‘should’ be saying about infant feeding. All now better aligning with the views and beliefs of many breastfeeding counsellors too.

Myself and other practitioners on the team were included in decisions and discussions throughout and in our final meeting we all went through the draft guide word by word ensuring that we all agreed entirely with the content. In addition, the guide has been reviewed by the CEOs of both First Steps Nutrition and The Breastfeeding Network. This is true co-production and collaboration.  

The finished product

Let’s be honest, this guide won’t tick everyone’s boxes. At times even breastfeeding counsellors may not agree with each other. But some hard decisions had to be made and some lines had to be drawn. While it is impossible to share with you all of those nuanced conversations that were had, believe me when I say that all of them were deep with various twists and turns and they allowed us to eventually come to mutually agreed decisions. Throughout this co-productive process I think we all changed and grew in some way too – just like this document can change and adapt as NCT does the same.

The writers of the guide – practitioners, staff and a trustee – have spent many hours getting this right and what has been produced will really help those who make the tricky decisions on how to talk about infant feeding and what images to use. Training for all comms staff on the WHO code has also taken place already to make sure that everyone is informed and on the same page, and this will be part of future inductions too.

NCT have really heard the concerns of practitioners and have made huge leaps forward to ensure that our message on infant feeding across all communications is consistent and the right one.

I’m really proud to have been part of this process. I have tried to be the voice for many practitioners and I really hope that you feel I have represented you well.

Beautiful things happen when we work together.

Find out more about NCT’s Infant Feeding Message Framework and view the easy-use guide here.