Even though it has been shown that peer support to mothers at home helps to increase exclusive breastfeeding, little is known about the experiences of peer supporters themselves and what is required of them to fulfil their day-to-day tasks. Therefore, a community-based randomised control trial using trained "lay" women to support exclusive infant feeding at home was implemented in three different sites across South Africa. The aim of this paper is to describe the experiences of peer supporters who promote exclusive infant feeding.
Three focus group discussions were held, in a language of their choice, with peer supporters. These meetings focused on how the peer educators utilised their time in the process of delivering the intervention. Data from the discussions were transcribed, with both verbatim and translated transcripts being used in the analysis.
Unlike the services provided by mainstream health care, peer supporters had to market their services. They had to negotiate entry into the mother's home and then her life. Furthermore, they had to demonstrate competence and come across as professional and trustworthy. An HIV-positive mother's fear of being stigmatised posed an added burden - subsequent disclosure of her positive status would lead to an increased workload and emotional distress. Peer supporters spent most of their time in the field and had to learn the skill of self-management. Their support-base was enhanced when supervision focused on their working conditions as well as the delivery of their tasks. Despite this, they faced other insurmountable issues, such as mothers being compelled to offer their infants mixed feeding simultaneously due to normative practices and working in the fields postpartum.
Designers of peer support interventions should consider the skills required for delivering health messages and the skills required for selling a service. Supportive supervision should be responsive both to the health care task and the challenges faced in the process of delivering it.