TheJournal.ie asked me to write a feature about breastfeeding, which is somewhat ironic considering it’s something I’ve zero experience of. I sent over the below copy, which was exceedingly verbose; so, if you’d prefer to read the more succinct and balanced version, please make your way to TheJournal.ie’s Family Magazine, otherwise, stay put for the below ramblings of someone who clearly still feels bitter about an encounter with a certain Public Health Nurse…
The side eye. The sigh. The mumbled remark. The not-so-silent judgement from someone you’ve never set eyes on before. That sinking feeling followed by bubbling frustration. Who is this person casting aspersions your way when all you’re trying to do is feed your baby?!
The worst offender when it came to prejudgement was my Public Health Nurse. One of his colleagues made the house call after we left the hospital and she was thrilled to find out I had “chosen” to bottle feed. “Great! I’ve just set up a bottle feeding group because bottle-feeders need support too.” A week later, support was indeed needed. Lara was bundled into the pram and we made our first shuffle into the village. Seeing no one around, I tentatively asked the receptionist if the support group was on at 10am and was met with a befuddled face. She went to ask the Public Health Nurse. He arrived chewing on a pastry. I’d obviously interrupted snack time. “Bottle-feeding support group?! Oh, no, no, no, we don’t have one of those – we’re breastfeeders here.”
“OK, well your colleague said there was a bottle-feeding group on at 10am and I’m having some issues. Can you help?”
“No, I know nothing about bottle feeding, as I said, we’re breastfeeders here. You’ll have to call the number on the back of a formula box… Why aren’t you breastfeeding?”As I was about to launch into that story, he cut me short – “Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s your choice.”
Every subsequent visit, he’d say “And you’re presumably breastfeeding?” And every time I attempted to say “No”, and explain why, he’d wave his hand and say “Well, that’s your choice.”
It wasn’t my choice, as it happened. Without subjecting you all to the dramas involving hormones, my left boob and one wily nipple; my GP said breastfeeding wasn’t an option. Neither was pumping. In fact, surgery was required, but it was never the right time… a story for another day. The point is, I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted the bond, to give all the antibodies and the very best to this tiny person. Isn’t that what every mother wants? Myriad of reasons aside, isn’t the most important thing that the baby is fed?
Considering this year’s National Breastfeeding Week (1st – 7th October) is almost upon us, I spoke with Rebecca O’Donovan, the Assistant National Breastfeeding Co-ordinator at the HSE. She said there are some key points to remember if you’re considering breastfeeding your new baby. In at number one is “every breastfeed makes a difference.” Whether it’s the colostrum after birth, a few days of breastfeeding, or exclusively breast for the first six months – it’s all beneficial, no matter how big, small or infrequent. O’Donovan added: “Breastfeeding takes patience and practice – but there is help available. Your local breastfeeding support group is a great place to get more information and advice, and also to meet other parents who may be at the same stage.”
Don’t feel like mingling as yet? “The HSE website breastfeeding.ie has an Ask Our Expert service where an online lactation consultant is available to answer questions and link mothers to local supports. There is a web chat facility and facebook page is also available.”
In hindsight, when I look at my breastfeeding friends, I’m not sure I would’ve had the tenacity or sufficient mental fortitude at the time to stick with it – but, that’s the thing with breastfeeding, it’s taken one feed at a time. Should new mums require further incentive to give breastfeeding a whirl; it’s been proven to help fight RTI (respiratory tract infections), gastrointestinal infections, childhood cancers, obesity, and even SIDS. As for breastfeeding mothers? According to breastfeeding.ie, it can help stave off Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, PND and Type 2 Diabetes. Sure why wouldn’t you breastfeed?! Because you physically can’t, or you just know in your bones it’s not for you? That’s OK. It’s not for everyone. And undoubtedly it’s a decision you’ve not made on a whim. The most important thing is that your baby is nourished and done so with love.
None of us knows what a stranger feeding her baby has been through, or what she hasn’t been through, or what she is able or unable to do for WHATEVER reason. Bottom line? IT’S NOBODY ELSE’S BUSINESS. So, to the elderly women shouting “Ah the poor babbah crying, would you not give him a bottle?!” to the young women whispering “That baby is only a few weeks old, bottle fed already” – not to mention all the menfolk not knowing where to look – why don’t we support each other instead of beating each other up with our opinions? How much more productive would that be?