Ten steps to boost breastfeeding rates in Ireland

Study finds 55% of Irish mothers breastfeed, the lowest among 27-high income countries

So what makes Irish women not even try or give up on the first day? Photograph: Thinkstock

So what makes Irish women not even try or give up on the first day? Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The figures from Friday’s Lancet study are stark.

Ireland has by far the lowest percentage of mothers who have breast-fed out of 27 high-income countries, at 55 per cent.

So what makes Irish women not even try or give up on the first day?

It is unlikely to be the message, every ante-natal class drills in that breast is best and mother’s milk is magic.

It is not the research which shows the endless benefits. The problem seems deep-rooted.

Ireland lost the breastfeeding tradition many years ago. I, and many of my generation, were formula-fed.

Perhaps our mothers used formula because they believed the marketing that it was better than breastmilk or because of the strong Catholic message of shame about women’s bodies that permeated society.

Whatever the historic reasons, most new mothers in Ireland do not have the support network for breastfeeding that women have in other countries have, family; mammies, mothers-in-law, sisters and aunties.

So what can we do? The Finns are famous for their baby box, their starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that is credited with giving it one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

The Irish should become famous for their breastfeeding bundle, a package to help reverse our trend for one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

My baby was born last year and I was one of the 16 per cent of Irish women who breast-fed for over four months (I breast-fed for almost six months).

However, I could so easily have fallen into the other category did I not have some of the supports below.

So here are the ten things I propose for Ireland’s soon-to-be famous breastfeeding bundle:

1. Breastfeeding pillow : Give every woman a feeding pillow. When you’re sitting in a crowded ward with only a bed and (if lucky) a metal chair to sit on, it is very difficult to get you and your baby into the right position for feeding . This was the best gift I received from my sister, when I was exhausted and sore after an emergency c-section.

2. Time: Give the over-stretched midwives and nurses in the maternity hospitals time. After my baby was born in Holles Street I was extremely lucky. It was a quiet weekend and a nurse took a few hours to help me get started. This came as much relief after believing myths that I couldn’t breastfeed after a section. I also had a dedicated and experienced night nurse who took time to help the baby latch over and over and all through the night.

3. After-hospital support: A lactation consultant who will come into your home and give advice when you need it or a 24-hour breastfeeding hotline. I had a Facebook group of mothers who all gave birth in the same month as me and they were my sanity check and my agony aunts who let me see it wasn’t only my child who was constantly hungry.

4. More paternity leave: I was lucky my husband could take unpaid leave for four weeks. When you are feeding for seven hours a day you need someone to do everything else (and I mean everything) – make you proper food, bring you water when you are literally stuck to the chair, change the nappies, wash the clothes and let you sleep for first few weeks. Breastfeeding comes from mums but is a team effort. Government proposals for two-weeks paid paternity leave are welcome, but not enough.

5. A nursing cover: While some breastfeeding advocates might balk at the idea that you should cover up, this pretty piece of modesty meant I could get out of the house and go for coffee with my unpredictable newborn who liked to feed for many hours a day. Lots of Irish women are still shy about their bodies and feel uncomfortable feeding in public

6. Breastfeeding equipment: Give women lanisoh cream and latch assist nipple everter. Breasts of new mums get extremely sore from suddenly being chewed (and after labour if we say it is sore then it is sore!) and lanisoh is expensive but makes it easier. And sometimes new mothers need the latch assist to help their untrained nipples. But you need them from day one in hospital (before you have given up because your baby is hungry and cannot latch). Also a small electric pump for after a few months when you finally want to take a night off.

7. Entertainment: A Netflix subscription and an e-book reader. No matter how beautiful your new bundle is, when you are sitting on your tod feeding for many hours a day you will go stir crazy if you don’t have something to watch. Oddly I binged on House MD for several weeks!

8. Breastfeeding smart phone app: The appeal of bottle-feeding is its tangibility. You know how many bottles a day your child has and how often. Breastfeeding can make you feel lost at sea and not in control. The Baby Feed App recommended at the tap of one button records how long feeds took, which breast you last fed your child from (you are so bleary-eyed you forget). It syncs with your partner’s phone too. So not only does it give you some semblance of control , you can eventually figure out a pattern for you baby (before it changes that is of course).

9. A virtual plaster: This is to cover the mouths of well-meaning people everywhere. We’ve lost generations of breastfeeding tips and many women tell vulnerable, tired and frustrated new mothers to give a bottle. The line: “That child is hungry and needs a bottle” undermines new mammies everywhere. If you meet a struggling new mother please take a step back and SSSSHHHH!

10. A spa day away: Once we hang up our mammary glands, whether that be, four weeks, six months or a year, a day of tranquillity on our own with nobody needing us, is the least we deserve.