Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates worldwide. While there are many reasons why mothers may not be able to or choose not to breastfeed, such low rates clearly indicate there are other factors also at play.
Anytime I venture out in public, I am very conscious of the fact if I end up feeding it's a possibility I could be approached and shamed. It is an unnecessary and additional worry that no mother needs.
Breastfeeding is natural, it's scientifically proven to be beneficial for mother and baby, economically, it is cheaper for parents and the health benefits reduce health care costs. While you might not want to do it yourself, there is no reason to speak out against it, no matter what angle you look at it from. No reason, other than ignorance. What is being done to prevent such interference and ensure mothers are left in peace?
When my son was born, his sugars were low, despite having fed once already. I couldn't get him to latch again, nor could I manage to express quickly enough. I had no qualms about giving my son formula at the time.
He had a tough delivery and needed his sugars back up quickly. However, looking back at it now, it annoys me. All I needed was five or ten extra minutes for someone to show me what to do properly. Instead, I had three days of trying to breastfeed, failing and giving bottles. The only reason I finally got on top of things was by repeatedly buzzing the midwife one night. I felt stupid that I hadn't gotten the hang of it. I felt embarrassed for disturbing the other mothers and babies in my ward as I was unable to calm my son. I felt like a huge inconvenience to the midwives coming back every couple of minutes. But I was determined and so I kept buzzing until I got the instructions I needed to do it myself. What happens to the mother whose embarrassment stops her pressing that buzzer for the third or tenth time?
I think the relevant health organisations need to step up and to provide more support for breastfeeding mums. It is completely irresponsible to declare 'breast is best' and then reduce what little support exists for breastfeeding. Every mother has the right to choose how to feed her child and yet;
- The lack of education takes away the ability to make an informed choice,
- The lack of social campaigns and funding for facilities takes away her freedom to feed comfortably in public,
- The fact that midwives are overstretched and lactation consultants keep office hours take away the assistance we need at the most critical time.
It is unacceptable to try and guilt mothers for not breastfeeding, to set such significant timelines for feeding to continue and then leave them at the mercy of an uneducated society.
Perhaps it is time to stop waiting on the HSE to lead the way in normalising breastfeeding. Perhaps it is up to us, the current generation of mothers:
- To get out there and do it, not answering to anyone other than our babies and their needs,
- To support each other and defend any mother who comes under attack from a nosy passer-by,
- To educate the next generation to understand their choices and respect the choices of others,
- And to get our friends and families to do the same.
Because in light of recent events, if we don't do it, no one else will.