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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Happy World Breastfeeding Week 2013! How are you finding it so far? Have you seen much promotion for it and read something new that will help you on your breastfeeding journey? I hope so, because there’s so much wonderful advice out there if you’re looking for help or trying to gather information. At the end of this post, you’ll find a selection of blogposts I’ve written myself about my own breastfeeding journey with my son. It was a wonderful 14 months and I look back on it fondly but it wasn’t without its bumps in the road and dark, long nights which we all have as parents, no matter how we choose to feed our babies.

As you can see from this year’s World Breastfeeding Week logo, this year’s theme is “Breastfeeding Support – Close to Mothers” and today I wanted to talk a little about what I think is probably the biggest barrier to successful breastfeeding for many mothers in Ireland. While we have very excellent resources like lactation consultants, Cuidiu, La Leche League, Friends of Breastfeeding, local breastfeeding groups in HSE health centres, to name but a few, when you close the door or hang up the phone from the experts, you’re relying on those around you in your home life to provide the support you need to firstly establish and then maintain breastfeeding.

Often for many mothers that simply doesn’t exist.

What’s wrong with this picture? A mum of three has a tiny new squish along with a toddler and a four year old. Her partner was lucky enough to take three weeks off work but now he has to go back to work and they have no family or support living nearby. Mum has struggled with latch problems and getting feeding established hasn’t been easy. Now her partner is back at work and she’s at home with three small children. She’s exhausted, her nipples are cracked and sore, she has to feed, clothe, entertain and soothe her children, the older two of which are demanding more and more of her time. What she really needs is to spend some time in bed resting and focusing on her new baby but with no support it’s just not an option.

What’s wrong with this picture? A new mother of one is breastfeeding her newborn. Neither her own mother or her mother in law breastfed their children. Her father in law is deeply uncomfortable at the idea of seeing his daughter in law feeding the baby and she is regularly shooed upstairs to nurse the child in private. Whenever her baby cries she is told her baby is starving and she should just give him a bottle. When her baby is three months old and still isn’t sleeping through the night, she’s told to do herself a favour and just give him a bottle because that’s what her sister did and she has a terribly good baby. She is regularly asked when she is going to give it up and give herself a night on the town.

What’s wrong with this picture? A new mother is at home recovering from quite a traumatic birth experience. She is emotionally fragile and in some physical discomfort from perineal stitches, some bruising and piles. She’s finding it difficult to cope and would prefer just to hang out at home in her pyjamas while she gets to know her new daughter and establish breastfeeding. But her visitors are telling her she should be up and out, maybe to the local shopping centre for a trip around the shops. She should be making an effort to look after her appearance – maybe a bit of lipstick – and try getting back to normal as soon as possible. She’s not the first person to have a baby you know. We’ve all been there. You just get on with it.

What’s wrong with this picture? A first time mum is the first of her friends and her siblings to have a baby. She hasn’t changed a nappy in her life nevermind breastfed a baby but things are going well. Since she got home from hospital, she has been a fantastic host to her visitors making tea and serving cake and biscuits. She’s conscious of staying on top of the laundry and trying to keep the house clean. There’s no dishwasher so she’s finding to hard to have enough cups for everyone when the kettle goes on and when the baby cries she feels torn between tending to her newborn’s needs and having everything just so. Her mother is coming over later and she thinks she might just burst into tears if there’s a throwaway comment about letting herself go.

As a nation and a culture, Ireland does not support breastfeeding mothers. The research has proven that all the promotion in the world hasn’t made a jot of difference and the real work needs to be in supporting mothers and changing this culture. Why are we so keen to encourage mothers to get back to normal as soon as possible? Why do we put so much pressure on them get it all together. What is so terribly wrong about taking the time to pause, rest, stay in bed and get to know their newborn? Why don’t we help them more? New mothers – all of them, not just the first-timers – need help. That’s how we get our breastfeeding rates up. Yes, plenty of successful breastfeeders manage long and successful breastfeeding relationships without help but our low national rates show it’s not the majority.

Be supportive. Let her rest. Let her look after the baby even though you really want to. Put a wash on. Take the toddler to the playground for a couple of hours. Wash the dishes. Bring her a homecooked meal that she doesn’t need to boil potatoes or rice for. Tell her to keep her pyjamas on. Tell her she’s doing a great job. Don’t talk about good babies that sleep all the way through the night – very few tiny babies do, and breastfeed tiny babies shouldn’t. Don’t ask her when she’s going to give up. Don’t send her to another room – or toilet – to feed her baby. Put a cushion under feet and make her a cup of tea.

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