The HSE is making progress on breastfeeding but Sabina Higgins is right when she says something big needs to happen. At the annual Latching on event in Áras an Uachtaráin last Friday, which marked the start of National Breastfeeding Week, she said our breastfeeding rate was embarrassing.
Very few women exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, but the problem with pointing this out is that it sounds judgmental.
You can rant about the health benefits for mom and baba until the cows come home, but how about tweaking the “breast is best” message and pumping out the “breast is so much easier” idea instead ?
The HSE has worked hard and with some success to convince women. In 2021, nearly six out of ten mothers were breastfeeding on their first public health nurse visit. An increase of 5 percent compared to 2019.
Impressive, even if the European average is 80 pieces. But I’m sounding judgmental for including that.
There are no current figures on long-term feeding – but in 2013 statistics from the World Health Organization showed that 15 per cent of babies in Ireland were exclusively breastfed up to six months, compared with a global average of 38 per cent and a European average of 25 per cent.
The question is why?
Historically, breastfeeding declined in the 1970s when bottle feeding was considered nutritionally superior.
My mother had five children in that decade and was advised to choose infant formula. With bottles, babies get into routines, so there’s a hangover of norms here.
I’ve given birth in two other countries as well as Ireland – and perhaps we don’t give new moms the time and space to do anything other than be with their baby.
But we like to plan, express, establish a routine, go back to work a year ago—when it’s really easy: To facilitate breastfeeding, a baby needs constant access to its mother’s body.
The information from the HSE is excellent indeed, with answers to every online breastfeeding hiccup – leaky breasts, overfeeding, cluster feeding.
You can send an email and a professional will respond within 48 hours.
I tried a fake query and within 16 hours I received an extremely useful response from a lactation specialist. Very impressive. However, if I were a restless breastfeeding novice, a phone number to call would be ideal.
The HSE says it has recruited 20 more infant feeding and lactation workers – more to come – and all maternity hospitals now have a specialist lactation support service available.
It would be best if a lactation specialist were available to visit any new mum who is having trouble – and it’s a little difficult – to fix breastfeeding.
The information is there for women, but why not a national campaign to convince everyone else? Of course, this includes men, employers and family members teaching them how to bend over backwards to help new moms and pick them up so they can focus on their baby.
A campaign would also emphasize that breastfeeding doesn’t cost you anything as a mother, that with a breastfeeding Baba you are freer and easier as you don’t have to sterilize bottles.
And a campaign could convey this magical closeness between mother and child. A newborn snuggling against his mother’s breast as if still anchored in the body, a larger baby clutching the breast like a bottle, eyes staring straight ahead, a one-year-old pointing, reaching, and demanding “milk.” can.
When I see women breastfeeding, it hurts me – and yet I remember the initial panic, the feeling of having done everything wrong.
I lived abroad but was lucky because I had a friend who was a nurse who visited me in the hospital and made me realize that it takes effort to study. And yes, it’s a slog. Baby is drinking all the time, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it. Your nipples may bleed: This is not normal, see a lactation specialist. If you stick with it for the first few weeks, breastfeeding becomes so easy – it saves you a lot of hassle and money and brings you a lot of joy.
It’s an instant mood booster for mom and baby. My friend was right: thanks, Bridget.
What every woman needs is a Bridget to give them information, especially with their first child.
Consultant neonatologist and pediatrician Professor Afif EL Khuffash is also a lactation specialist at Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.
After conducting research on barriers to breastfeeding, he told me that one of their conclusions was that a different approach to communicating information about breastfeeding to mothers was needed.
He said they are starting a working group that aims to more accurately describe normal eating patterns.
However, to have the time to relay information properly requires more nursing and midwifery staff.
And that’s the key. You can read information about how a newborn may need constant feeding, but nothing beats the reassurance you’ll get from someone with hands-on experience standing in front of you.
Prof EL Khuffash advises women to keep their baby close and not crave routine too soon.
He said: “I heard this great quote: ‘The baby’s environment in the first few months is the mother’s body’ – and yet society has created this idea that you have to put your baby down. Really, being close to the mother is what the baby needs.”
Maybe that’s the big change Sabina says needs to happen. That we need to create a culture that supports breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is beautiful, but it’s also a full-time job – and we need to make it easier for women to do it.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/breastfeeding-is-lovely-but-we-need-to-make-it-easier-for-women-to-be-able-to-do-it-42043995.html Breastfeeding is beautiful – but we need to make it easier for women to do it