Maternity Champions' Can Give The Right Kind Of Support To Vulnerable New Mothers

01/09/2016 17:30 | Updated 01 September 2016

Becoming a parent can be a difficult time for anyone. Managing the practical challenges of looking after and feeding a new baby, worries about doing the right thing, while coping with sleepless nights and exhaustion thrown into the bargain. And the list goes on.

But some new mothers and fathers have to deal with other considerable problems while holding the baby - housing difficulties, low income, language barriers, legal issues or refugee or asylum status can put people under massive pressure. To say this is challenging would be an understatement.

Getting support from the right services at such a time is vital, but they can be very difficult or daunting to access. This can lead to people being even more excluded and lonely, and not getting the support they need for them and their families.

So it's really important that new mums and dads who are facing difficult social circumstances have a safety net. Volunteers from their communities have the potential to play a really important role here - building relationships and helping people to access the support and services they need.

NCT has worked hard in recent years to find ways of expanding our scope and reaching more diverse groups of parents. Our Birth and Beyond Community Supporters programme aims to provide support for those living in challenging circumstances, and shows great promise in improving outcomes for families.

Our 'maternity champions' are recruited from the local community and receive training to help build trusting relationships, listen and encourage, provide emotional support, and get people the local services they need.

Volunteers go on to support mothers in a variety of ways and can make a huge difference to people's lives. They take the time to listen, recognise and understand their challenges, and help families to use services and find solutions.

Some of these maternity champions are connecting with mothers on Queen's Park's Mozart Estate, one of the most deprived areas in the country. They have worked with some very disadvantaged families and helped them to access crucial health and maternity services. Women who have been supported by these volunteers are overwhelmingly positive about the difference it has made to their lives.

And the maternity champions themselves also gain much from the training and experience of supporting others. Volunteers report becoming more confident and having an increased feeling of self-worth, and many go on to access further education courses.

Community action is a powerful way to support people. We'd like to see more local authorities working with volunteers as part of a broader strategy to tackle health inequalities.