Mother says she will let nature take its course when weaning
Holly McIndoe (37) has been breastfeeding her daughter, Cassia, for the last two-and-a-half years. She said that she is willing to breastfeed the toddler until she is four or five-years-old, and will let her daughter decide when she is no longer interested.
“It’s not that I have a date in mind for when I’m going to stop breastfeeding. I will continue with the breastfeeding relationship for as long as it’s something that Cassia wants to do, and as long as I feel comfortable doing it,” said Ms McIndoe.
“My understanding is the global average for breastfeeding is three or four years (for when weaning starts). So, I don’t feel I have to stop when she turns three or when she turns three-and-a-half. I’ll kind of just see if I can follow her lead.
“It’s super handy being able to breastfeed a toddler because they have these big emotions and never sit still. They get devastated if a banana breaks in half or whatever. So breastfeeding is a really handy way of just being able to have a quiet moment and de-escalate things and everything feels a bit calm again.
“The reason I know about natural weaning and that it’s biologically normal for our species to breastfeed for up to four or five years is through the La Leche League and through my sister who has three children.
“She’s still feeding her youngest daughter at the moment who’s four-and-a-half. I have a few other friends who have fed their children up until they’re three, four, or sometimes even five.”
Ms McIndoe and her two sisters are all currently breastfeeding. “It’s really nice we can share that experience as well as share knowledge with each other. It’s a really lovely thing for us to do as sisters, to be breastfeeding mothers together.”
As World Breastfeeding Week ends tomorrow, it has emerged Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world with just 49pc of infants being exclusively breastfed after leaving hospital, according to Unicef.
After Cassia was born, Ms McIndoe received “wonderful” care from the midwives, but she felt like she did not receive as much breastfeeding support as she needed.
The hospital gave her a pump, which she said was good for maintaining her supply. However, she said she needed “a conversation, not a technical solution”.
La Leche League are pro-breastfeeding and believe in “natural weaning”. This is a process where children gradually wean themselves off of breastfeeding as they become disinterested in it.
“They were just so sympathetic and very wise. They weren’t prescriptive, they weren’t telling me what I should do and they weren’t judgmental. They just help you towards what you want to do, and give you the support to make your own decisions,” she said.
Fiona Fahy (38) and her husband Garvan have two children, Shea (5) and Sadie (3). Ms Fahy breastfed Shea for nine months and breastfed Sadie until she was just over the age of two. The Limerick native, who now lives in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, said “hands-on” help is key for new mums.
Ms Fahy always planned to breastfeed her own children due to the “health benefits”.
However, she said she felt pressure to stop breastfeeding Shea before returning to work.
The mother-of-two, who owns sustainable breastfeeding clothing brand Feed Me Mother, said: “We weaned Shea from the breast and switched to formula because I thought it was going to be easier and that’s one of my biggest regrets because I would have loved to have kept going to the 12-month mark. It was a lack of information.
"With Sadie then, I didn’t go back to work, and I breastfed until she was two years and two months.”
Susan McAlester (32) and her husband Paul-André, who live in Co Meath, have a 10-month-old son Finn who is exclusively breastfed.
Finn latched straight away but Ms McAlester said she still had doubts in the back of her mind and sought reassurance from a healthcare professional.
“I was a bit tough on myself in the early days because it’s this idea of ‘bounce back’ culture, nothing really to do with my body but I felt like I had to be able to get out of the house and bring my baby out to the beach for walks and things,” she said.
“And if I wasn’t able to get myself together to do that then I wasn’t doing a good enough job. But in reality, what I needed to be doing in those early weeks was just sitting on the couch and resting.
“Letting Finn latch and do his thing just to establish a supply and like get to know each other and just move very, very slowly.
“That was hard for me for the first few weeks to just do nothing. You see new mums and they look fabulous and it’s great that they’re able to do that but that was not my experience so I kind of just put that pressure on myself to get out and about.”
Ms McAlester said breastfeeding can be “mentally tiring” and emphasised the importance of face-to-face interaction with other mums.
“He latched straight away but I had no idea what I was doing, I had done all the antenatal classes but during Covid they were all online, so I didn’t find them that useful,” she said.
“I went into it quite underprepared, I really didn’t know whether he was getting milk or not.
“When you’re in the hospital, you’re asking for support and the midwives are fantastic but they’re so stretched in other ways so you really do need that specialist support and I did ask for it a couple of times but there just wasn’t anyone available who could come and speak to me.
“When you come home from hospital, it’s like ‘okay, we’re on our own’ and all of a sudden, all these doubts start creeping in, so that’s what happened to me.
“I just had that niggling sense in the back of my mind, so I found a lactation consultant locally and booked an appointment, I just needed that reassurance. She kind of just gave me that bit of encouragement to just keep at it and trust my gut.
“Those first few weeks are very rocky because you’re a bit confident and then something just might knock your confidence and it’s nothing logical, but your hormones are all over the place. We were going into the public health nurse as well just to weigh him, but I still had moments of self-doubt.”
Ms McAlester said she now feels confident in her breastfeeding journey and credits support groups such as Cuidiú for helping her to get to that stage.
“Probably the most important thing was Cuidiú, I started going every week and there were counsellors there who could answer any questions you had and even just meeting a community of other women who are also breastfeeding,” she said.