Orla McGreal said she hopes she is still breastfeeding her son Conor by the time he is six-months-old, and if she makes it to his first birthday “that would be amazing”.
The Dublin woman, who gave birth to Conor in June, found breastfeeding very difficult, but she persevered and aims to continue for as long as possible.
Her advice to other new mums who are struggling is to join a breastfeeding support group.
“To be honest at the start it was horrendous and extremely painful,” said Orla. “I was also worrying that Conor wasn’t getting enough.
"So, I spoke with my public health nurse who was really helpful and immediately signed me up with a lactation consultation in my area. She was very practical and weighed him (the baby) before and after (feeding), assuring me he was getting fed.
"To help stimulate supply, the baby was on me for weeks. It wasn’t totally natural and was very much a skill I had to learn , but once we reached seven weeks, it got easier, and the baby chilled out.
“I also went along to the HSE breastfeeding support groups – and if I hadn’t, I probably would have stopped – so my advice to any mums who might be struggling is to get to a group. As well as the support, it is an appointment in a sea of feeding – otherwise, in the early days, I don’t think I would have left the house.
"Now I have a whole social circle of others mums – and there’s a big convoy of buggies going for coffee afterwards.
“I’m still breastfeeding, and my aim is to get to six months – but if I made it to a year that would be amazing.”
This week is National Breastfeeding Week when health officials aim to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, as Ireland has one of the lowest rates in the world.
It is unclear why this country has traditionally had such a low uptake, but Laura McHugh, HSE National Breastfeeding Co-ordinator said that figures are slowly rising and it now stands at 59pc who reported breastfeeding their newborn babies.
“At the first public health nurse visit, there has been a 5pc increase in the number of babies being breastfed between 2019 and 2021,” she said. “While breastfeeding rates are increasing around the country, we want to continue to build on this progress by supporting every parent who may need help on their breastfeeding journey.
“So 15 additional infant feeding/lactation posts have been recruited within nursing and midwifery services to support breastfeeding parents, bringing the overall number to 39. All 19 maternity hospitals now have a specialist lactation support service available and more infant feeding/lactation posts are being recruited to ensure nationwide availability within primary care services.”
Maeve Collins, mother to Tavleen (1) and Sibéal (2), breastfed both of her children and although she also found it difficult at first, she stuck with it for nine months with her first child and is still going strong with her second.
As an artist, she was inspired to create a project about breastfeeding, called Liquid Gold, which she is now looking to exhibit and would encourage new mothers to do all they can to make breastfeeding work.
“My advice to any mothers who may need a bit of help is, that it can take time in the beginning for milk to come in and you can feel deterred, but there are methods that work and can help,” she said.
“Also reach out to the local public health nurse, look for local groups or put a question out on mammies groups online. And follow your instincts, keep with it if you can, it will even out in the end.”
According to Ms McHugh, perseverance is key as there are many benefits to breastfeeding for mothers and babies. It is also cost effective.
Anne O’Malley, a public health nurse in Dublin said: “Every breastfeed makes a difference because any amount of breast milk is beneficial for mother and baby. If a mother can breastfeed for a short amount of time, it will be helpful and the longer you breastfeed, the greater protection for mother and baby. We want every mother to know about all the free supports available to help her to breastfeed for longer if she wishes."