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Victoria White: Breast is best and it's time we embraced that


Baby girl nursing breastfeeding from her mother

Baby girl nursing breastfeeding from her mother

Getty Images

Baby girl nursing breastfeeding from her mother

New research shows mams who don't breast-feed are more likely to become depressed.

And the mothers who are most likely to be depressed are the ones who try to breast-feed and fail. So that's us they're talking about. Irish women have the lowest breast-feeding rate in the world. And it's not because we can't be bothered.

Half of us don't even make it home with our babies at the breast. Because the support we're given is rotten and the information we're given is often wrong.

The shocking truth is that the longer we stay in hospital in Ireland the less likely we are to keep breast-feeding.

Genevieve Becker runs a UN initiative in this country, which names a hospital "Baby Friendly" if it takes certain steps to encourage breast-feeding.

There are over 19,000 such hospitals worldwide but here there are currently only eight.

She says thousands of women are "lost" to breast-feeding every year in Ireland partly because the support they get in hospital is so bad. I could certainly vouch for that a decade ago when I had my babies at the National Maternity Hospital.

Pretty much every single rule hospitals have to obey to be "Baby Friendly" was broken.

No, my baby did not need a bottle of water to settle him. No, my twins did not need bottles as well as the breast.

No baby known to God or man breast-feeds every four hours, they're meant to feed whenever they feel like it.

No, I could not measure how much breast-milk they were getting but no, my babies were not starving themselves.

I was expected to know nothing about my own babies because I was just a mother and all I had was instinct.

Oh, and the perfect food for my perfect baby right there in my breast. But Irish medics don't think much of women and their instincts and as for that perfect food, who needs it when you can buy formula milk?

What this says about our attitude to infants is obvious. But our pathetic breast-feeding rate also shows how much women are valued in this country.

Women's fertility is feared and so is her ability to feed her child. Breast-feeding has to be stopped and when it is not stopped it must at least be done behind closed doors.

Breast-feeding is bliss for babies but it also gives women great pleasure when it's going well. I think the pleasure bit is what we fear most about breast-feeding in this country.

We used to fear it so much that, in the 1950s and 60s, women were even injected with drugs to stop their milk coming in.

It is horrible to think how that may have damaged women and their babies, because breast-feeding hormones change a woman's brain to help her be a mother. But the value of mothering and the importance of breast-feeding are still deliberately ignored in this country.

And there's no backlash, because Irish feminism has largely bought into the old patriarchal fear of the female.

You hear lots of shouting about the gender wage gap from Irish feminists.

But I'm still waiting for the women's movement to scream from the rooftops that having the lowest breast-feeding rate in the world is making Irish mothers sad.

Online Editors