Breastfeeding your baby is the most natural thing in the world. Millions of women do it every day. It’s good for baby and good for Mum. Why then is the rate of nursing in Ireland still so low?
Every woman’s story is different. For some new mothers, breastfeeding can be difficult in the beginning. They may be anxious about latching and milk supply or worry that the baby is not eating enough. It can be such a confusing time, but overall it is such a beautiful bonding experience.
For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of photographing some amazingly generous mums and their beautiful babies. These women want to play their part in normalizing breastfeeding in Ireland. I have been listening to their views on breastfeeding and their personal stories.
The way your baby looks at you while you breastfeed can be one of the most memorable moments in your lifetime.
Watching your baby grow and develop while thriving off of only your breastmilk, is such an empowering feeling.
Knowing that you can provide your baby with necessary comfort while fulfilling their nutritional needs is extremely rewarding.
Michelle, a mother of three who breastfed all of her babies, thinks of breastfeeding as such an important glue in the relationship she has with her children. “Breastfeeding is my go-to for them, to nourish, bond, calm them, love them. I often tandem feed my children. They will hold hands, hug and kiss each other while I feed. I will miss it when it’s over but I’m glad they will remember it and have these good memories.”
Marie, who is also a mother of three, gave me her view on breastfeeding, “I love feeding my kids and it is the best parenting tool to have. I don’t know how non-nursing mothers get through the tough times without it.”
Sadly, some new mothers do not receive the necessary support and education they need before they give birth, so the rates of breastfeeding mothers are staggeringly low.
However, encouragingly, according to the Independent.ie, the rates of mothers who choose to breastfeed are steadily going up in Ireland. We were once noted as having the lowest rate of breastfed babies in Europe (with a shocking 11% of mothers feeding), now Ireland is stated to have had 73% of mothers initiate breastfeeding at the hospital after delivery in 2017.
This is definitely a huge improvement (probably due to better education and resources for mothers who need help), but ultimately it doesn’t mean very much since most mothers quit breastfeeding within the first few weeks before they really have time to adjust. Ongoing support is vital to help encourage new mums to continue to nurse their newborns.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life, then breastfeeding along with appropriate foods until the child is two years of age (or longer if that is what the mother and child choose).
With that being said, it is obvious that mothers in Ireland are probably not getting the proper education, support and encouragement necessary to continue breastfeeding once they begin.
Some women are hoping to help change this statistic; Caroline, a mother of four, said this regarding her thoughts on breastfeeding based on her previous experiences,
“Breastfeeding means a lot to me and I regret not having any professional photos of my last breastfeeding journey. I feel that breastfeeding is becoming more accepted and normalized nowadays in Ireland. In the Middle East, it was so normal to breastfeed and was not the norm to bottle feed. I hope to be able to help in normalizing breastfeeding in society.”
Sara, who is a mother of two shared, “This is my second breastfeeding journey and I have been so lucky to have relatively obstacle-free experiences.”
When asked to describe her experience Sara shared, “I breastfed my son for 16 months and still feel guilty for ending it due to him biting me badly! I would like to breastfeed my daughter for longer. Of course, there have been hard days but overall it is the most satisfying and enthralling thing I’ve ever done. Watching my children grow from my milk alone makes my heart want to burst.
The memories of the closeness I feel when it’s just me and her in the middle of the night are something I will cherish for all of my days.”
Breastfeeding can be difficult at times, but it is extremely rewarding. Proper resources and access to Lactation consultants should be given to mothers who want to breastfeed, especially if they are having a difficult time with latch or milk supply. A woman’s partner should help her out as much as they can: whether she needs physical, mental or emotional support during her breastfeeding journey.
Sometimes there will be challenges making it difficult for a mother to continue breastfeeding without support. Emily has a unique story when it comes to breastfeeding her second baby. “My second breastfeeding journey started out as my first, smooth sailing. Fiadh latched straight away and fed perfectly. That is until she was 4 days old and wouldn’t wake up to feed. She ended up back in hospital on antibiotics with Invasive Group A Strep in her blood.
She was a little champ and I was so thankful I could feed her throughout her treatment. It kept her calm, kept her close and kept her with a steady supply of Mommy’s antibodies. She recovered 100% and kept up her feeding and still going strong 19 months later, with no signs of stopping!”
It is also extremely important to note that every breastfeeding journey is different. Hilary, Mum of two, shared with me,
“ I had complications and ill health after giving birth to my first baby which made feeding difficult from the start. It was important to me to succeed the second time around as I felt I had failed my first baby. Breastfeeding this time has been so much easier and fulfilling I must admit. I’m very happy that I persevered.”
According to Healthline, breastfeeding provides babies with all of their nutritional needs, from day one and supplies important antibodies made by the mother specifically for her child. It reduces risks for certain diseases such as digestive issues, allergies, eczema, etc. It also is beneficial to the mother by helping her uterus contract postpartum, reducing the risk of infection.
If you would like to learn more about breastfeeding, there are support groups and lactation consultants available to help in your area. Visit the following:
https://www2.hse.ie/babies-and-toddlers/breastfeeding/ https://www.breastfeedingsupport.ie/ https://www.lalecheleagueireland.com/
Here, you will be able to have all of your questions answered and just feel encouraged and supported through your breastfeeding journey.
Remember that if you cannot breastfeed for whatever reason, or if you choose not to, that this is your choice. There is no right way to be a parent, and there is nothing wrong with deciding to give your baby formula instead of breastmilk. As mothers, we are here to support each other. Just remember that as long as your little one is happy and healthy, you are doing an amazing job!
Enjoy some more images from these amazing sessions below. If you’d like more information about booking a breastfeeding session for yourself please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
World Health Organization