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Time to grow up and lose the stigma over breastfeeding

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"The social stigma is alive and well ... Even loving family members may duck their head and not know where to look when you tuck your baby under your top with the greatest discretion"

"The social stigma is alive and well ... Even loving family members may duck their head and not know where to look when you tuck your baby under your top with the greatest discretion"

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"The social stigma is alive and well ... Even loving family members may duck their head and not know where to look when you tuck your baby under your top with the greatest discretion"

It's 6am on a dark, bleak winter's morning and my tiny baby has just woken up with a whimper for his first feed of the day. Cue slippers, bathrobe and a weary shuffle downstairs into the stone-cold kitchen, blinking blearily in the bright light of the lamp.

I boil the kettle, spoon in the formula and cool the bottle as fast as physically possible, juggling mewling infant and bottle with the skill of a Cirque de Soleil artiste.

Or . . . at the first flutter of movement from the little body cocooned next to me in bed - yes, co-sleeping is slightly controversial I admit - I simply roll over and feed him the way our bodies were designed to do.

Neither baby nor I are fully conscious as we enjoy our first cosy little moment of the day and I'm not even really quite sure when the feed comes to an end before both he and I have already drifted back to blissful sleep.

Wasn't I 'marvellous'? - as the public health nurse and my GP breathed in admiration.

Wasn't I 'disgusting'? - as Princess Michael of Kent would no doubt have spat, given her recent controversial remarks to breast-feeding mothers.

Wasn't I 'tiring myself out and getting all run-down'? - as some of my friends worried, on spying my effortlessly shrinking frame.

Nope, was the answer to all of the above.

What I was, was a naturally rather lazy woman who was lucky enough to have had a mother who breastfed us all and so had quickly cottoned on to the fact that it was the biggest cheat ever.

Quality comfort time with your baby; a window of opportunity to read a book or even, with a new baby, go to the cinema.

A nifty exit strategy from those tiresome social gatherings when you just want some peace and quiet to "feed the baby"

Check, check and check.

'The Slacker's Guide to Motherhood', in fact. Just add water? Not even.

Tricky to get the hang of for the first month, granted.

Rock-hard breasts are no barrel of laughs and not even the best lactation expert can convince you that you are effortlessly striding the path of righteousness when cracked nipples come into play.

But with a bit of help, I was flying.

In fact my only real trouble was stopping.

Baby number one breastfed for 13 months, baby number two fared ever better at 18 months and in desperation I had to go to London for the weekend to get child number three - a die-hard snuggler - to quit the habit at the grand old age of two.

Why then, are health experts failing to sell Irish women the joy of relatively effortless, cost-free, practically guiltless chocolate-scoffing, motherhood?

We have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, Richard Layte, co-author of the 'Growing Up in Ireland' report said incredulously at the launch yesterday.

Only a fraction of our maternity hospitals are adhering to the national Breastfeeding Strategy guidelines, in place since 2005.

Minister for Children James Reilly hurriedly bowed his head and began to scribble some notes as Professor Layte suggested that some money be put towards promoting breastfeeding, given that some €15m is spent on fighting infections in babies each year -when breastfeeding is proven to prevent such infections in the first place. The report's list of reasons for not breastfeeding are intriguing.

The flat answer that 'formula feeding was preferable' was given by 48.8pc of mothers who did not initiate breastfeeding; followed by inconvenience/fatigue at 17.1 pc; difficulty with breastfeeding techniques at 8.3pc; and did not want to breastfeed and embarrassment/social stigma, both at 5.6pc.

Proper, on-call lactation advice could address all of these concerns - bar one.

The social stigma is alive and well and is probably the chief reason behind number one on the list, if women are honest.

Even loving family members may duck their head and not know where to look when you tuck your baby under your top with the greatest discretion.

Over to you, society. Time to grow up on this basic instinct.

Irish Independent