Monica (2001) Takes Action Through Service

Being a social innovator doesn’t necessarily mean changing the world. It comes in all different shapes and forms.   

For Monica Spillman (Parker, 2001), volunteering her time at the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is her way of taking action through service and giving back to the community.  

As a trained breastfeeding councillor, Monica is passionate about providing guidance, support, and knowledge to women and families who have concerns about breastfeeding.  

We sat down with Monica to gain further insight into the incredible work she is doing with families all over Perth.  

How did you first come into contact with the ABA? 

I first heard of ABA through my sister-in-law who recommended their prenatal breastfeeding education class to get knowledge ahead of our baby’s arrival. It was invaluable information! And then I loved the friendships I made at the local group discussions. I felt like I had found my village of support. 

What is the overarching aim of the association and how do you feel you contribute to this? 

 As Australia’s leading authority on breastfeeding, ABA support, educate and advocate for a breastfeeding-inclusive society. I contribute at a local level to meet the needs of families; listening to their needs with an empathetic ear, and providing breastfeeding support and evidence-based information so they may feel empowered to take steps that will work for their family. 

What inspired you to join as a volunteer? 

As a new Mum, I really struggled to breastfeed. I found it to be a raw and vulnerable time, full of anxiety and sleep deprivation. I felt heard by the ABA volunteers. They provided unconditional support regardless of how long I chose to breastfeed. I was inspired by their knowledge and skills and I wanted to give this support to others too.  

I have enjoyed volunteering ever since my days at Santa Maria with Young Mercies. It is something I love to do and now I’ve found the group I want to volunteer with on a long-term basis. 

What does your role entail?  

I volunteer as a trained breastfeeding counsellor to support breastfeeding questions and information. A typical day of volunteering may involve a couple of hours on the 24-hour National Breastfeeding Helpline, supporting a caller’s concerns. Hearing their voice change from upset and stressed, to relieved and empowered is the greatest feeling.  

Continuing the day, ABA volunteers host local and online group discussions, where families can connect and enjoy a variety of parenting experiences. I come to support and answer any personal questions. Some mums would like private counselling, which I can give face-to-face. 

Someone may come by to hire a pump as I provide breast pump hire as well. My volunteering also involves posting on social media and helping trainees with questions. What I love about volunteering with ABA is how child-friendly it is. I can give of my time at any point. I take helpline calls from home, so our kids are usually about. The time I give is flexible and limitless! Sometimes I give a couple of hours a week, sometimes I give countless hours… but I gain so much in return. 

What are some of the most common concerns and worries people come to you with?  

The most common concerns include breast and nipple pain, worries about supply, a change in feeding pattern, and the need for reassurance. Sometimes a mum contacts us and has not ever had a comfortable breastfeed. She has so many things going on that are causing a lot of anxiety. I listen, empathise and when she is ready, we take her greatest worries step by step. Often I can identify what is happening and provide suggestions to assist. If the support required is more complex or outside my scope, I would refer on, usually to an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).  

I also provide counselling support to families who feel guilt about their breastfeeding journey. Regardless of how long anyone breastfeeds, they have done their very best. Breastfeeding grief is real, valid, and normal. I have counselled grandmothers who have held their breastfeeding guilt for decades. 

What are some of the most common misconceptions about breastfeeding?  

Breastfeeding may be natural, but it is a learned skill. The latest research shows that most women want to breastfeed and are able to. Knowledge of how our bodies lactate can often be unknown. One of the most common misconceptions is around how breastmilk supply works. In general, milk removed makes more milk. Lactating breasts are never completely empty. There are ways to increase and decrease milk supply and ABA can help. 

Breastfeeding in public still remains quite a taboo subject. Why do you think this is the case?  

Breastfeeding in public is a legal right and protected both federally and in every state and territory within Australia. It is illegal to treat a woman less favourably than another person in education, employment, or access to premises or services on the basis that she is breastfeeding. It may feel daunting to breastfeed in public, but it is very rare to receive negative responses. The more breastfeeding is seen in public, the more normalised it may become. 

Why do you think it is important to promote breastfeeding and the protection of nursing mothers? 

Breastmilk is unique; it is a dynamic fluid, which changes in composition within and between feeds, and throughout lactation. Breastfeeding has long and short-term health benefits for both Mum and baby. So if someone would like to breastfeed their baby, it is important to me that they receive the support, skills, and knowledge to do so.  

Why would you encourage more women to get involved in such an organisation?  

What’s great about ABA is that they provide evidence-based, consistent information about breastfeeding. ABA’s volunteers are trained to provide unconditional, non-judgmental support. I think there is a real need to support our mums, and ABA provides this. 

I think volunteering gives back to the volunteer as much as it gives on. I think those who are interested in helping others and who love to build upon knowledge and skills would love volunteering.  

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