As a food blogger I thought long and hard about writing this post. In Ireland there is a cultural taboo about discussing breastfeeding as a food choice. This is World Breastfeeding Week however and it’s about time I discussed it on the blog. The Irish Parenting Bloggers group are holding a blog march to celebrate and discuss their breastfeeding experiences.
A while back a young mother commented to me that she really wanted to breastfeed but that sure wasn’t the powdered milk a substitute and mentioned a named brand that prides itself on how similar it is to breastmilk. Powdered baby milk isn’t the next best thing.
The values of breastfeeding go far beyond the simple transfer of nutrition from the mother to the child. It’s not just about how similar a milk is to breastmilk (bear in mind it can never be identical), it’s about the long term benefits that breastfeeding brings to the child, the mother and society.
I’m a mother to 2 young boys. I’ve had 2 very different experiences in attempting to breastfeed my children. The one thing that was common to both of them was the lack of support from medical professionals when breastfeeding.
My youngest is 21 months old and I finished breastfeeding last week despite the brutal support from maternity services. After being in labour overnight and not having slept in 48 hours I was left to take care of him on the maternity ward with little or no assistance from maternity staff. I rang the bell for what seemed like hours because I needed help lifting him from the bassinette. Once I did get help, in the end I tucked him into the bed beside me and kept him there even though the nurses were dead set against the baby sleeping anywhere other than the cot.
Incidentally he had his developmental check the week after I finished breastfeeding and the first thing the health nurse asked me was “is he still drinking his bottles?” That is how ingrained formula feeding is in our culture. The first assumption is always that a baby is bottle fed. I had intended to feed him for longer but well, he had other ideas and he felt it was time to finish up. I feel guilty though for not feeding him for longer.
I was unsuccessful at breastfeeding my now 4 year old beyond 4 weeks. I struggled from the outset and when I asked for help from the lactation consultant I was informed that there was only 1 for the entire hospital and she worked 9-5 Monday-Friday. How inconvenient that I had my baby on a Saturday. I persisted when I got home, moved to a combination of pumping and feeding, then sole pumping then after a number of weeks I moved to formula feeding only. I beat myself up for a long time afterwards and cried bitter tears that I couldn’t feed him.
“Rooming in” is practised in virtually all hospitals in Ireland. It is lauded as a process which encourages bonding and breastfeeding between mother and baby. This means that your baby remains with you 24/7 for the duration of your stay providing you are not critically ill or your baby isn’t in the Special Care Unit. If you’ve just had a caesarian section you will be expected to have your baby in the cot next to you. Nurses are meant to be on hand to assist those who need help, however the reality is that maternity staff are run off their feet and you will often see other new mothers helping out those less able to pick up their babies, after ringing the bell for help with a screaming baby for up to 30 minutes with no response in some cases.
Labour is so called for a reason. It is one of the most physically demanding things that your body can go through. You could liken it to running a number of marathons in a row if you will. Imagine being so physically and emotionally exhausted that you can barely lift your own baby to feed them? So why on earth would you expect any new mother to do this without adequate support?
A rested mother is one who can make rational choices about feeding her child. Imagine if there were enough staff on hand to help you, answer any queries, make sure you were doing things right? Straight away I can see why, at present, breastfeeding rates are so low in Ireland. Small wonder why many new mothers choose to give the baby a bottle so that they can rest themselves after such an ordeal.
So why not invest in more staff on maternity wards and more supports for new mothers to enable and encourage breastfeeding in a positive manner?
On a very basic level, putting the money into maternity services will save in the long run. More money invested in those few short days after the baby is born, and in supporting mothers during the first months after they take the baby home will result in less obese children, less children with chronic asthma, excema, high blood pressure along with lower rates of osteoporosis, breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women, nevermind lower incidences of post natal depression. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.
PS: A version of this blogpost originally appeared on ramp.ie to celebrate Irish Breastfeeding Week which occurs in October.
If you’d like to read what the rest of my fellow Irish Parenting Bloggers have written please see below:
The Nest with World Breastfeeding Week
Mama.ie with Breast Buddies
At The Clothesline with Close to my heart
My Life as a Mum with Mummy I need your pookie
Learner Mama with The Breastfeeding Trier