Comment: 'How dare Irish mums go out in public brandishing their breasts in order to feed their babies'
Published 25/08/2016 | 08:29
Damned if you do and damned if you don't. That's the position so many working mothers find themselves in when it comes to trying to hold down a job and care properly for their children.
I've long suspected that if it were men having the babies, maternity units would be five-star, nappies and other paraphernalia would be provided free by the State and every workplace would have a state-of-the-art funded super-creche.
Back in the real world - made by men to provide for men's needs - women are told they should be doing one thing in the best interests of the child - and then thwarted at every turn when they try to do it.
Yesterday, it was reported that a new mum had brought her employer to the Workplace Relations Commission for failing to grant her a work transfer to facilitate her breastfeeding her prematurely-born baby.
She works as a paramedic and travels a gob-smacking 290km each day, a round trip of four hours and 20 minutes. Obviously that barely leaves time to change a nappy let alone breastfeed the child, as advised by her doctors.
The adjudication officer agreed that the delay was causing the woman "unnecessary distress", but then advised that she just "take her place on the transfer panel on the same basis as any other employee".
Meanwhile, a report this year in The Lancet showed that Ireland has one of the lowest uptakes of women breastfeeding in the world, despite the fact that it has "dramatic effects on life expectancy, increases intelligence and protects against obesity in later life".
There's also a good economic argument for the State doing its utmost to promote breastfeeding, as it would save us about €800m-a-year.
So why then did the Government's national maternity strategy, published in January, highlight a "perceived" lack of support for women breastfeeding their babies? Perhaps because instead of "perceived", it's the reality?
Speaking from my own experience, I had little to zero assistance while in maternity hospital trying to get my premature baby to "latch on", not because the very kind and helpful nurses were uninterested, but because they were overworked and understaffed.
Having to share a cubicle - not a room but an actual cubicle - because there were not enough beds for patients at the time made it even more difficult.
I had been told by friends that a substantial amount of Irish people robustly protest about women breastfeeding their babies in public.
But I never really believed this, until about the third time I was asked in a restaurant if "I'd feel more comfortable doing that in the bathroom?"
"No, I wouldn't - but obviously you would be," was my answer to that. If you were very careful, and covered up burka-style, with the baby (and it had better be a teeny, tiny baby, not a strapping two-year-old toddler) and her gluttonous milky mouth well hidden from view, then you might just get away with it.
But God forbid that the baby would lose her grip for just a second or stop to take a breath, and a nipple be revealed for the whole of civilised society to see.
How could decent people recover from the sight? You can see them in the corner of your eye, no matter how you try to avoid their prurient glances, barely suppressing their distaste with involuntary shudders and lip-curling distaste.
"Put those things away, you brazen hussy," you can almost hear them say, "Where do you think you are, France?" What woman wants to suffer that every time they do something as natural and healthy as nurse their child?
Breasts are fine, seemingly, as long as they're perky and polished, pictured on the front of a men's magazine, but not in a coffee shop while the people at the next table are trying to enjoy their morning muffins.
The attitude of far too many people to breastfeeding in public is still that of an inhibited and prudish society that believes lactating mothers should be confined to their proper place - the home. Not out in public brandishing their breasts in order to feed their babies.
You'd almost think that was the whole point of having breasts in the first place. Oh.