10 things they don’t tell you about breastfeeding
Knowing what to expect, as well as better support, is key
7 It’s not just cows who develop mastitis: About one in 10 breastfeeding mothers will be affected by this condition. Symptoms include a painful swollen breast and possibly flu-like symptoms.
“Heat, rest and empty breast” is the recommendation for the first 24 hours and then, if there is no improvement, a visit to the GP for a course of antibiotics is recommended. Make sure medication that allows you to continue breastfeeding is prescribed.
8 It’s invaluable when your baby is ill: Expressed breast milk – whether the mother’s own or a supply from the island’s only human milk bank, in Co Fermanagh – is vital for premature babies.
But any baby feeling poorly craves the comfort of the breast, so is less likely to stop suckling a real teat, as opposed to a plastic one.
Dublin mother Lisa Finnegan was very glad she was still breastfeeding her one-year-old baby when he became very sick during a trip to Tenerife. “He wouldn’t eat or drink, he was vomiting – the only thing he would do is breastfeed.”
Hospital staff wanted to keep him in and put him on a drip, until they saw her put him to the breast. Instantly their attitude changed, she says, and they told her she could take him home, that he should be fine.
“It was one time it really hit home to me that I was doing the right thing,” she adds.
9 You’re not a failure if you stop early: Some mothers feel very guilty when they don’t reach the targets they had set themselves for breastfeeding.
It’s one of the reasons the HSE is promoting the slogan, “Every Breastfeed Makes a Difference.”
It is also intended to encourage women to take it a day at a time, which can seem less daunting than the six months of exclusive breastfeeding recommended, and then up to two years in combination with solids.
10 You might not want to stop: The pure pleasure of breastfeeding, never mind the health benefits and the added bonus of it being a slimming aid, means it can be a hard habit to kick.
However, telling everybody how wonderful breastfeeding can be, may cause you to be branded a member of the “Breastapo” or, at least, regarded as a bit odd. So it’s a discussion rarely heard outside breastfeeding groups – which does first-time mothers no favours.
For more information on National Breastfeeding Week, see breastfeeding.ie and friendsofbreastfeeding.ie. An HSE information leaflet on what to expect when breastfeeding is available on healthpromotion.ie.
The Irish maternity system needs to provide a ‘pathway’ to treatment for tongue tie
If breastfeeding continues to be difficult and painful for more than a couple of weeks, “tongue tie” in the baby may be the issue.
When the small bit of tissue (frenulum) under the tongue is unusually thick, tight or short, it restricts movement of the tongue. This can hamper the baby’s latching and sucking, resulting in persistent pain for the mother and sometimes the failure of the baby to get enough milk.
Research has found that 4-10 per cent of babies are born with this condition – the estimated incidence varies from study to study – of whom nearly half are likely to have feeding problems, particularly those who are breastfed.
However, the medical establishment here is yet to be convinced of a need for treatment.
“It is a big block. We don’t seem to be able to get it into paediatricians’ heads that this is a problem,” says lactation consultant Nicola O’Byrne, who thinks they regard it as a “fad”.
She believes tongue tie (known medically as ankyloglossia) is not being taken seriously by the maternity hospitals.
“It causes huge anger among the mothers who have gone through a couple of weeks of very difficult breastfeeding and really want to do it and then find out that this has been the problem all along.”
A pathway to treatment
If the Irish maternity system is trying to promote breastfeeding, it needs to provide a “pathway” to treatment for tongue tie, says paediatrician Dr Justin Roche, one of the few professionals in the Republic offering to do this procedure – known as a frenotomy – on young babies.
It involves the snipping of the frenulum that is restricting movement of the tongue and, when done in the early weeks, can be carried out without any anaesthetic.
“From an intervention perspective, it is comparable to having a blood test or a vaccination,” says Roche, consultant paediatrician at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel.
Most babies get a little bit of bleeding; for one in 300 cases it will be up to a teaspoon in volume. They will be upset by the procedure for 30 seconds to a minute and then settle down, he says.
Roche has treated more than 1,000 babies for tongue tie and had to start a weekly private clinic to meet the demand, as more and more were referred to him from all over the country.