The Antenatal Session Is Now Online!

Elizabeth Owen, London, Great Britain

“Let me know you have seen this” I typed urgently in an email to local parents-to-be, “…the antenatal session is now online! Please do not go to the venue!” This was Monday 16th March, the day the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Boris Johnson) announced pregnant women were considered in the vulnerable group and should be careful to observe social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within 90 minutes of his announcement my co-Leader and I were leading our first ever online antenatal breastfeeding meeting with seven couples. It went well! Everyone was grateful for the speed with which we had reacted. But probably none was quite as surprised as we were…

Since then we have gained a co-Leader and run countless more meetings online using Zoom (an online video conferencing service—see box). It’s not perfect: there are technical glitches; sometimes we ache to pass a box of tissues to the upset; we long to pass a hot drink to the tired and worn down; it’s not always possible to read someone’s feelings when they are in a square on a screen… but it is really worth it! Online meetings have allowed us to reach more mothers from further afield and to offer meetings at times we could never have managed in person. It has given us flexibility and actually allowed our Group to grow in numbers and strength during lockdown—something we would never have thought possible.

Online meetings have allowed us to reach more mothers from further afield and to offer meetings at times we could never have managed in person

Zoom is an online video conferencing service that allows multiple people to talk and see each other from any location that has a good internet connection. One useful feature of Zoom is “breakout rooms” which allow the person who is hosting the meeting to divide participants into smaller groups within the main meeting. Depending on your needs you may decide to have a Leader or Leader Applicant in each discussion group but you can also use the virtual rooms for mothers to chat among themselves. There is also a chat box function where written information can be shared (see text). The basic version of Zoom is free for 40 minutes which some Groups find perfectly adequate; others prefer to subscribe to the pro version.  The pro version costs £11.99 ($14.99 US) a month (plus VAT) and can be a cost effective use of Group funds when compared against the cost of venue hire and refreshments.


One initiative born out of social distancing is our Newbie Group; for mothers in the newborn to eight week phase. Run weekly on a Saturday morning, the Group has mothers who come to almost every meeting and ones who dip in and out a bit but often then join our main Series Meetings. We’ve witnessed a rise in membership as a direct result of this Group. Would we have begun an extra physical meeting in real life? No! Would we have ever offered a Saturday morning meeting? No! We are busy Leaders already running at maximum capacity. Would we have chosen to target this particular group? No! There was other local support and we felt if mothers were keen enough they would make it to a physical meeting. Do we intend to keep this, or a modified version of it, running when things are back to normal? Yes!

Some of the mothers who have benefited from our online support include:

  • A mother with a baby just days old who joined us from Sri Lanka
  • A mother whose face we didn’t see for four weeks. This mother told us that if she hadn’t been able to join from her home, sometimes crying, often not yet dressed, she would never have made it to a real life meeting and might not still be breastfeeding.
  • A mother of twins a few days old who was recovering from a cesarean.
  • A visually impaired mother whose reliance on public transport left her particularly isolated during lockdown.

One of the most heartwarming things is when we catch a glimpse of a partner or carer in the background bringing the mum a cuppa (cup of tea) or passing the baby back after a nappy (diaper) change.

Annual feedback survey

We deliver an annual survey and have often received comments such as “We’d love more meetings!” “Evening meetings please!” “Can’t make the regular meeting days but would love to still be able to come!” While lovely to hear how valued our support has been, we’ve also known we couldn’t, within our current capacities (work commitments, older children to cater for) offer more meeting days, times and venues. Suddenly, in lockdown, we have been able to do just that! All at a time when they are most needed.

Evening meetings

Evening meetings have given those with paid work during the day, those who need to be able to chat without their older children listening in, or those who just cannot concentrate when juggling their family’s needs the chance to join. We have held some evening meetings specifically for those nursing a child three years or older. These have been very popular and we have been able to put faces to familiar names of those following our Facebook page. we have also recognised mothers who came to meetings for a few months when their babies were small and are now back feeding preschoolers. It’s been wonderful! We’ve also enjoyed some brilliant Leader support sessions and worked through some training modules with Leader Applicants.


Are there any downsides? Yes! There can be technical glitches, seeing yourself on a screen can take some getting used to and it’s certainly harder to read body language–but we learn and adapt. It can feel as though you are chairing a meeting sometimes: “Charis, do you have something to say?” or “What were you going to add, Jo?” As it’s not obvious what is going on around us in our own homes, we are sometimes forced to be explicit with co-Leaders: “Eva my teenager/toddler needs me just now, can you take over please?” When there are strong personalities who like to chat a lot, or those who are more confident and articulate, in danger of dominating a meeting, we are sometimes forced to be more brusque than we would be in real life. But we quickly found ways to manage this: “Thank you! Anyone else?” or “I’m just aware of the time, are you ok if we move on to Sam?”

Increasing diversity

In LLL, we are always trying to increase our contacts with a range of mothers. For a long time we’ve noticed that the mothers we speak to on the helpline appear to be from more diverse backgrounds than the mothers who turn up for meetings. As there is always a meeting on the horizon, we make sure to let the callers know. This has brought about a slight, but nonetheless noticeable, increase in diversity at our meetings.

Online meetings have opened up so many opportunities both for us and for families reaching out for support. Two more antenatal evenings have taken place online since that very first one in March. At our most recent, a mother-to-be joined us from Ireland and her partner (who is in the forces) joined from Lebanon. I am writing this at the end of World Breastfeeding Week when I co-led meetings while on holiday in another county with a co-Leader leading from another country–it felt very fitting!

Some of the mothers we support are crying out for face-to-face meetings to restart. Until we are able to do so, online meetings remain the next best option, outstripping our expectations at that first meeting in March.

Tips for online meetings

Some tips we’ve picked up along the way include:

  • Suggesting mums keep themselves unmuted if it’s quiet in the background can make for a more relaxed meeting, but don’t be scared to ask them to mute again if it’s noisy.
  • If someone is hard to hear, let them know—better than everyone really straining to hear.
  • Your role is to manage the technology as well as the meeting: it doesn’t always come naturally but is really important to the success of the meeting. Mums understand if it’s tricky to multitask and will be so appreciative of your efforts!
  • Breakout rooms (see box) can be beneficial when the group size is big or the needs plentiful and if otherwise you’d run out of time. You can start and end all together, but use breakout rooms to give everyone space to talk and be heard—think of it as the side-chats or one-to-one helping in a meeting.
  • We use Zoom but there are other formats. Microsoft Teams has a subtitle function, valuable if there are mums with hearing difficulties (although it is not very accurate!)
  • It’s natural to want to make encouraging noises while a mum is talking. Learn to exaggerate your nodding or mime clapping or using thumbs up signs, either virtual or literal to allow the meeting to flow without interruption.
  • The Zoom chat function is useful: you can pop comments, links, donation and membership information in there.
  • Everyone gets better with practise!


Elizabeth Owen has been a Leader in Waltham Forest, London, Great Britain for ten years. She has four teenage children.