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Blog: Better Together - Volunteering with ABA

breastfeeding ... with ABA

Breastfeeding ... with ABA blog. 18 May, 2022. 

Celebrating National Volunteer Week 2022. 

Did you know that volunteers do most of the work of ABA? Our breastfeeding counsellors (BCs) and breastfeeding educators (BEs) are all volunteers who have completed a Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education. We offer a volunteer traineeship, which means you learn on the job. That means you don't pay course tuition fees when you commit to volunteering with us. While training to become a BC or BE, our trainees are also required to carry out many hours of volunteer work with ABA. However, many ABA volunteers do not stop after 2 years. Each year we recognise many volunteers who have completed 5 and 10 years of service. We have some wonderful volunteers who have served the community for 15, 20, 25 and even 30 -to 40 years!! What is it about doing this unpaid job that keeps volunteers active for so long?

Most ABA volunteers are parents with breastfeeding experience* and many have overcome significant breastfeeding challenges on the way. Because of our experiences, we understand that having a new baby and learning to breastfeed can be tricky, and we know how valuable good support is. We want to be there to support others in those tricky early days. 

There are many, rewarding ways we provide that support. Many of us take calls on the Breastfeeding Helpline, or chats on LiveChat, to be the voice at the end of the line when you are struggling. Others provide breastfeeding education at our in-person Breastfeeding Education Classes and Breastfeeding Education Live online so expectant parents can be informed and empowered. We have volunteers who run local groups where breastfeeding mums and families in our communities can come together to discuss breastfeeding, find support and make friends with other like-minded parents. And volunteers who create safe online communities for breastfeeding support through our Facebook groups. Volunteers are also responsible for providing reliable, evidence-based information for you, which can be accessed through our website and booklets when you need it.

We volunteer to give back and to help others, but we also volunteer because doing all of this is incredibly rewarding to us. It gives us a sense of purpose, community, the opportunity to learn and develop new skills and beautiful friendships with the most dedicated group of people you could imagine.

I asked some other ABA volunteers what they enjoyed about volunteering. We all agreed that the sense of community and support that we get from working together with other volunteers and our communities was the thing that kept us going. We have all made friends, and supported each other both in-person and online.

Natasha, a breastfeeding counsellor and breastfeeding educator for nearly 20 years, loves how her volunteer role has connected her with people she otherwise might not have met; people from different backgrounds and generations all bring new perspectives. She says, ‘These relationships have enriched my life immeasurably and given rise to some of the most enduring and important friendships of my life’.

Many volunteers talked about how being part of ABA means you have a supportive network around you wherever you go. Kate, who has been a breastfeeding counsellor for 12 years, told me that she found an ‘instant ABA family’ when she moved to a new town with three children under 5. It meant the world to her when another volunteer, whom she had never met before, even offered to come to her house and play with her kids when the removalists arrived.

Another common theme is the love and respect we have for each other as volunteers and what we all do. Justine has been a breastfeeding counsellor since 2012. She says, ‘I'm blown away by the dedication and empathy of other volunteers who share their time and experience in a supportive way to help others. It feels like we are part of something special’. Antonia, who has had many roles in her nearly 20 years as an ABA volunteer, adds, ‘Being in ABA brings joy in seeing how, just by joining forces with other dedicated individuals, you can actually change the world in meaningful ways, even if only in one family at a time!’

Another wonderful thing about volunteering with ABA is the diverse range of ways you can contribute. It can be a great way of developing skills that may be useful in other parts of your life. As well as counselling skills, I have developed my leadership and organisational skills as a local group leader and branch conference coordinator. I currently enjoy contributing to the Breastfeeding with ABA podcast and blog series. I have even learned how to edit audio files (something it turns out I love doing but never would have thought of trying before).

Jessica, who has been volunteering since 2011 and has had many roles within ABA, talks about how rewarding it is to work in a team with other volunteers towards a common goal. ‘Being able to also bond and vent and get emotional support and laugh with the people you're working with is the best thing ever. I love ABA vollies, from my local heroes to the people in other states who I 'only' know via Zoom and Facebook, it's a privilege and a joy to be part of ABA teams’.

And then there is the enjoyment of working with breastfeeding mums and families in our local communities. Those of us whose babies have grown up enjoy the opportunity to spend time around babies and will happily hold them so their mum can enjoy a quiet cuppa. But there is more to it than that. Justine says, ‘After 20 years as an ABA member and volunteering for many years, I still love meeting new families and watching their confidence grow when surrounded by a supportive, positive group’.

Angela, a breastfeeding counsellor of 10 years, loves, ‘Watching the support of group members grow from helping each other figure out breastfeeding, to figuring out toddler challenges and juggling career and kids, to supporting each other's individual emerging hopes and dreams. Seeing lifetime friendships build in front of you, cuppa by cuppa, as you hold the teapot.’

Volunteering is better when we do it together and your local group is the foundation of your ABA family. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with ABA getting in touch with your local group is a great place to start. From there, you can connect with networks of volunteers throughout Australia and find different ways of contributing that suit you and your interests. Even if you don't think training to be a qualified breastfeeding counsellor or educator is for you, there are many jobs you can do at a local level that do not require training.

For more information on volunteering with ABA, head to our website.

*All ABA breastfeeding counsellors have breastfed a baby for a minimum of 6 months, with continued breastfeeding after introducing solids. While many breastfeeding educators are also experienced breastfeeders, it is not required. Some men and women who have not breastfed a baby can, and do, become BEs.

WORDS // Emma Pennell

Emma Pennell joined ABA in 2008 to attend a Breastfeeding Education Class during her first pregnancy and attended her first group meeting when her son was 3 weeks old. She stayed for the support and friendships with like-minded parents and eventually qualified as a Breastfeeding Counsellor in 2013. She lives on Wurundjeri Country in the Yarra Ranges to the East of Melbourne with her 2 kids, her partner and some chooks.

For breastfeeding counselling, please call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum2mum or 1800 686 268. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors who answer calls on a roster system in their own homes. The National Breastfeeding Helpline is supported by funding from the Australian Government.

Here are more ways you can get information and support right now:

 Find out more about Breastfeeding … with ABA.