Dr. Ciara Kelly: 'Breast is best for baby and mother'
We've known for years that this is true, so why are our rates so low?
Breastfeeding. What have we got against it? There must be something - because we consistently have one of the lowest rates in the world. To put that in context; compare us to Norway, not a million miles away, also European. =
There, almost 100pc of babies are breastfed at birth and 80pc at six months of age, while we breastfeed 50pc here at birth and about 10pc at six months. So why are we so against or at best indifferent to it?
I've several theories - a big influencer of whether a mum breastfeeds is the support or lack thereof from her partner and her own mother. In Ireland, we lost a whole generation of breastfeeding mums in the 1960s and 1970s, through a mixture of middle-class snobbiness, Catholic prudishness and the 1960s housewife's love of powdered food! (Anyone remember 'Smash'?) And those 1960s mums don't have the experience to pass on to their now adult daughters. We've moved away from the 'Just add water!' school of cooking, but the notion that you should give your baby powdered milk, still persists.
Another important factor is the lack of social acceptability. Because breastfeeding is uncommon here and breasts are now mainly associated with sex, some people become uncomfortable around it and ring up radio stations and discuss whether mothers who feed their children are sluts or possibly looking for attention. That doesn't help.
But enough of that - let's talk about why it's great. For a start, it's the best food, indeed the perfect food, for your baby. Human milk as opposed to powdered milk or cow milk is what we're supposed to drink. Not just the easiest on baby's tummy. Not just bursting with essential fatty acids for brain development. But jam packed with antibodies from the mum, to protect baby from illness while its immune system is developing.
Breastfed babies are less sick, less often. They're less likely to develop asthma and eczema. They've higher IQs and are less likely to be obese than bottle-fed babies.
Breastfeeding is hugely convenient especially on the move or at night. Pop your baby in a grobag, lie them on top of your duvet so they can't slip under your covers and feed at night without even waking up, let alone getting up.
Breast feeding is like liposuction. As your baby grows and needs more milk you are probably pumping out a 1000 calories a day through your boobs, getting your weight down post baby - better than any other way.
It's an incredible bond. It's like a hug and a feed at the same time and it's a wonderful experience to feel you are sustaining your baby with your own body. The fourth trimester!
And what about trouble shooting? Yes the first couple of weeks can be hard but it usually settles by around three weeks. To get nipples in best breastfeeding condition - express a small amount of milk onto the nipple, after feeding, and allow to air dry. Avoid breast pads as much as possible in the early days - until nipples toughen up. Inverted nipples still work - give them a pinch and they'll pop out once baby latches on.
Feed with one breast until it's completely empty and then offer the other side. At the next feed start with the opposite breast. You don't need to worry about the amount baby's getting once they're growing well.
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Cracked nipples can be treated with lanolin cream or may require thrush cream, but keep expressing milk on to the nipples! Mastitis - sore boobs and feeling fluey - needs an early antibiotic and as much breastfeeding as possible.
Those last points make it sound tough but it's anything but. Society has so sexualised our breasts that we sometimes forget what they're actually designed to do! Breastfeeding is amazing and rewarding - so to those of you thinking about not doing it - you don't know what you and your baby are missing!