Monday 22 January 2018

Why 'looks and stares' put mothers off breastfeeding

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

PEOPLE have been warned to stop the strange "looks and stares" that are putting off more women from breastfeeding in public.

The National Women's Council also wants shops, restaurants and public offices to display 'breastfeeding welcome here' signs to deal with the low breastfeeding rate.

The call came as prominent Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor said she could not remember the last time she had seen a woman breastfeeding in public.

The rate of breastfeeding here is just 56pc – compared with 81pc in the UK and over 90pc in Scandinavia.

The National Women's Council director Orla O'Connor said changing public attitudes to breastfeeding in public was crucial to increase its prevalence.

COMFORTABLE

"It's more about the looks, the stares and even being in a place and knowing that the staff aren't particularly comfortable, although they haven't asked you to leave. That in itself makes you want to leave," she said.

There are two pieces of legislation that allow mothers to breastfeed in public wherever they like.

But Ms Mitchell O'Connor said that the country should copy the example of Holland, where there are often signs in cafes and shops stating that it is fine to breastfeed.

"Breastfeeding is not something you see a lot of in public places in Ireland, as you might in other countries. That's one of the things that women say to us," she said.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor also said society's attitudes to breastfeeding had to change to help mothers feel more comfortable about doing it in public.

"We need to remove the stigma around women breastfeeding in public. It has to become as socially acceptable to breastfeed a baby as to bottle feed a baby," she said.

The number of mothers who start breastfeeding here is 56pc, but the number feeding their babies through breastmilk alone falls to 46pc upon discharge from hospital.

COMMONPLACE

And this drops to as low as 22.7pc by the time infants are three months old. Ms Mitchell O'Connor said increasing the number of women breastfeeding in public would "normalise" the practice and encourage more women to take it up.

"It's commonplace to see mothers bottle-feeding babies in shopping centres, parks, playgrounds and cafes. We need to see more breast-feeding as well," she said.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor, who breastfed her own children, is due to take part in a major childhood obesity conference this month where breastfeeding will be a major topic.

She said increasing breastfeeding rates could play a huge role in tackling childhood obesity. "Research has shown that breastfeeding your baby for 26 weeks or more is associated with a 51pc reduction in the risk of obesity. But when the benefits are so profound, why are only 56pc of women currently initiating breastfeeding in Ireland?" she asked.

Irish Independent

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