Opinion,  Parenting

World Breastfeeding Week

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:

August 1st:
Wholesome Ireland with World Breastfeeding Week
The Happy Womb with The Power of Breasts

August 2nd:
Awfully Chipper with The Accidental Extender
Office Mum with Breastfeeding Support: Change the Focus

August 3rd:
Wonderful Wagon with Hippy Hippy Milkshake
It Begins With a Verse with World Breastfeeding Week

August 4th:
Glitter Mama Wishes with World Breastfeeding Week – Blog March – My Experiences
Ouch My Fanny Hurts with Let’s Talk About Boobs Baby

August 5th:
Debalicious with So you want to breastfeed in Ireland?
Bumbles of Rice with Breastfeeding in the Middle Ground
Mind the Baby with What’s wrong with this picture?

August 6th:
My Internal World with Breastfeeding in Ireland: Support on Paper but not in Practice

Musings and Chatterings with Lumps, Bumps, and Grumps – Things I never knew about breastfeeding
Mama Courage with Hey you! Be a BFF to your BFF (Breast Feeding Friends)

August 7th:
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

I'm an Irish mother to 2 boys, born & bred in Dublin, Ireland. I like to cook simple & fresh food for the family, with the family on a budget.


  • Maud

    Oh, the idea of a newborn screaming in a cot for 30 minutes because its mother can’t pick it up and comfort it is just making me cry. I’m so sorry things are that bad.

    • Wholesome Ireland

      On a number of occasions in the two maternity hospitals I attended, I spotted more able mothers assisting women stuck in bed after c-section to tend to their babies. It shouldn’t be like that. x

  • Catherine

    So, so much of this post rings true for me. I wish it were different. While in hospital I was one of the new mothers helping a fellow inmate, despite barely being able to walk myself! I’ve since had disparaging comments about breastfeeding being ‘lonely’ and ‘selfish’. So much of it stems from ignorance, but without proper resourcing and support from the get go, change will be frustratingly slow.

    • Wholesome Ireland

      You’re dead right. I wish it were different too. There is such a culture of formula feeding in Ireland the support from peers is lacking too. Change is so slow. Last month I said to a friend who’s originally to Eastern Europe that I was still feeding and she looked at me like I had two heads – “but you’re Irish”. I kid you not.

      • Catherine

        I’m getting similar reactions to the news that I intend to keep going past six months! Crazy. The inconsistency in support is so infuriating, there’s no common approach or training either within hospitals or with PHNs so it’s a complete lottery. I was so lucky to be on a Domino scheme – the midwives were without exception extremely helpful and supportive and the home visits were vital in getting things established and building my confidence. Such a pity there aren’t more of them.

        • Wholesome Ireland

          It really is a lottery. I’m too far away from the maternity hospital to be on a Domino scheme. The scheme clinic is actually closer to me than the hospital. So I had to pass the clinic every time for an appointment and continue for a further 20 miles. Sigh.

  • Anna Boch

    If the investment of resources (time, money, staff, pamphlets) was put into supporting those that really want to breastfeed as opposed to the bombardment of encouragment before baby without providing proper support after there would be a lot more success for those that do and a lot less guilt for those that don’t. imo 🙂 But back to the matter in hand – I hope all nursing mothers take great pride this week in doing what they do, and those that aren’t nursing support and encourage those that are. It’s the first most wholesome food every one of us should experience Xxx

  • Elizabeth McDonnell

    Brilliant post,have 4 children all of whom I breastfed for various lengths of time and with various success, the only common thread was the total lack of support from the medical profession, was told on my fourth in the recovery room (all 4 were C section) that ‘I would never manage to BF a boy with 4 children under 4!!’ was RAGING…fed him till he was 10 months and I had to go back to work, even then fed him at night….so unhelpful in the hospital and even the public health nurse was slightly aghast at the idea of me feeding him…very happy with my little family and the only sadness about not having more is that I will never get to BF again 🙁

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Yes, I’m so sad to be at the end of my BF journey even though I know it is for the best. I agree, total lack of support. It is such a pity as there is great opportunity there to make a change – as Anna says below – beyond the literature and shame blaming.

  • natasha peters

    I breastfed my daughter until she was 6 months old (she decided she no longer liked the idea so I to was so gutted when she no longer wanted to breastfeed) With my own family living in another country I found it very tough. Not only was there the serious lack of support from the medical profession but I also had to deal with my in-laws being unknowingly unsupportive. I barely saw any of my partners family for those 6 months because anytime I had to feed they’d leave, or if they walked in while I was feeding they’d make there excuses and leave. It was very frustrating but that’s because of the ingrained ‘bottle feed culture’ just the idea of breastfeeding makes so many people so uncomfortable, even family members. My sister-in-law didn’t even entertain the idea of breastfeeding purely because she didn’t want to do the feeding of her baby and she wanted to smoke. Moving here I couldn’t believe even the older generations views on breastfeeding. Surely more people would be turning to breastfeeding not only is it an incredible way to bond with your child, but in the current economical climate you would think the idea of feeding your baby for free would appeal. (ps sorry about the essay haha)

  • Neasa Hogan

    Great post.
    My two were born in NZ where 85% of babies up to 6 weeks are breastfed. I had 2 c-sections and both my ladies had difficulty latching but with support from the hospital staff, mid wives, community nurses and lactation consultants I was able to use nipple shields and get them properly latching in a few weeks. On my second daughter I ended up with a post op infection and returned to hospital for a 10 day stay where I was in ICU on 3 different IV antibiotics and still, the support I received meant I was able to continue breastfeeding her. We returned to Ireland when she was 6 months old and both myself and my husband were dismayed at the attitude towards breastfeeding. The experiences friends and family have had of un-supportive and downright obstructive hospital staff has shocked and saddened me. I know my experience would have been vastly different if they had been born here. I breast fed my first until 19 months and my second voluntarily weaned herself when I got a massive flu when she was 10 months old when she told me (using baby sign) that I was ‘too hot’ for her to feed!
    The medical and maternal/infant health community need to wake up and adjust their marketing. Breastfeeding should always be the first choice or suggestion. As individuals, we need to encourage and support mothers to breastfeed but also remember that mothers who choose to supplement or to exclusively formula feed require and deserve support too – all that sterilising alone would drive me nuts!

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Definitely. Sterilising drove me crazy on the first man. I think parents’ choices do need to be supported but our country’s medical policies and cultural attitudes have a lot to answer for poor breastfeeding rates. No mother should be made feel guilty for her choices. Yet it still happens on both sides. Wonderful to hear perspective from someone who has given birth and nursed in another country. Thank you Neasa.

  • Sadhbh

    I breastfed my twins for the two weeks they were in the special care unit and I really regret not being able to do it for longer. I had fully intended feeding them myself as I had the great example of my best friend breastfeeding her twins until they were at least 6 months, but the lack of support in the hospital was unbelievable. My girls were 5 weeks early and I had an emergency section so I was a mess. I was told I had to pump in the special ‘pump room’ in the unit – which was three floors away when I could barely walk to the lift. A nurse just said – you need to go pump, but didn’t show me how, or stay with me, just handed me a ‘contraption’ and sent me on my way, limping down the corridor. Another mother showed me how to assemble it and told me how long to pump for. It was very demoralising. Another thing was, that they supplemented the girls feed with formula in the unit and when they both got nappy rash, they told me it was because the mix of milk was causing it… which, looking back, seems bogus.The sad thing is, that my milk came in well and I probably could have continued relatively easily, but I didn’t have the emotional support to deal with it.

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Oh Sadhbh it’s so sad that you feel regret. You did wonderfully. Your girls got 2 weeks which was fantastic for them. You made the best decision taking into account the support which is so important. It will always stand to them. You are some superwoman walking up to pump in a lonely room in great pain. I’m in awe.

  • Yaz

    Agree that more staff on wards would be a big help in making mothers feel more confident with their decision to breastfeed and make it easier too with more help when you need it…..not a half hour later or more

  • G. Allyn

    I am a R.N. in ICU in America and am saddened to read the impact understaffing had on your post-partum experience with your son. Understaffing of nurses has long been a problem in my country. It has lead to nurses leaving the profession at a high rate and the injury rate for nurses is one of the highest in the U.S. Since physicians have a fee and thus, bring financial rewards to the hospital, nurses are overhead and “come with the bed”. Until nursing is seen as a way to bring in money or save money, the staff will be in short supply.
    It is sad to find the lack of support for new mothers leads some to choose bottle feeding over breastmilk. We have the same problem in this country, where we spend our healthcare dollars on the problem instead of working on wellness. The only good thing I can mention, is breastfeeding has been popular in the U.S. since the 1970’s. Isn’t formula expensive in your beautiful country?

    • Wholesome Ireland

      It is incredibly expensive. It is a huge pity that the lack of support & resources at the early stage has such far reaching consequences, no matter what the society. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.