Breastfeeding: It's all about educating yourself first
If you're considering breastfeeding but you're not sure, it's all about educating yourself first, writes Claire O'Mahony
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented - it benefits the baby in terms of growth and immunity, and breastmilk is designed to meet all your baby's needs - yet Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Only 50-55pc of mums will attempt to breastfeed, in comparison with the European norm of about 90pc.
According to midwife and breastfeeding consultant Clare Boyle (breastfeedingconsultant.ie), the country hasn't really been a breastfeeding nation since the 1960s and there are a lot of negative myths about breastfeeding.
"People think that it's painful, that they have to tough it out, that it's a lot of work and that it takes a lot of commitment on the mother's part. I think people just dismiss it out of hand," she says.
The fact is that breastfeeding is a learned skill and Boyle believes women are hampered by the non-breasfeeding culture and that they don't know what normal breastfeeding entails. "You need to educate yourself about breastfeeding before the baby comes and have what I call the breastfeeding basics under your belt," advises Boyle. "You need to understand what a normal latch should look and feel like; how often your baby should be feeding in a 24-hour period; how long a feed should be and that your baby is getting enough milk. If you don't know those things before the baby comes, it's not going to magically pop into your head. Mothering hormones are good but they're not that good."
She teaches a four-hour breastfeeding class to teach these basics and she also advises that fathers attend too.
"I call the dads the 'memory sticks' as they're the ones that are going to remember the information and it's about educating the people who are going to be supporting you afterwards," she says.
"Breastfeeding takes time and effort to master, and if the people around you don't realise, and if you don't realise that, then you're going to chuck in the towel."
Many women who try breastfeeding give it up after only six weeks, which is why support is phenomenally important.
Organisations such as La Leche League and Cuidiú, the Irish Childbirth Trust, host breastfeeding support groups for mothers, as do many of the hospitals.
There are also private lactation consultants, such as Boyle, who can provide skilled breastfeeding help. Pain, she says is not normal. "It's not acceptable and if there is pain longer than 20/30 seconds after the baby has latched on, then that baby is not latched on correctly and that mother needs skilled breastfeeding help," she says.
For expectant mums who might be wavering about trying breastfeeding, Boyle has the following to say: "Your body, the mother's body, is designed to perfectly nourish your baby, just the way the placenta has done through the entire pregnancy. Your baby is expecting to receive your milk and your milk has the ability to help your baby thrive and grow to its fullest potential and no artificial baby milk will ever be able to compare."