Tuesday, August 6, 2013

So You Want to Breastfeed in Ireland?

This week the Irish Parenting Bloggers are doing a blog march for World Breastfeeding Week.  There have been some amazing posts so far and I encourage you to browse!

So you want to breastfeed in Ireland, eh?  Well here are some home truths from some one who's been there and done that despite being one of the less than 1% who cannot physically breastfeed

First thing you need to know and probably won't like to hear.... the system and culture is set up so you are almost destined to fail.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that support in the medical system is scant at best and when it's there you have to actively seek it out.  Nine out of ten times your PHN, GP, Midwife and even some hospital lactation consultants are probably not up to date on breastfeeding best practice and advice. I find that at the first sign of trouble they are wont to offer a bottle as a solution.

This does not stop with the medical profession. Our closest support -partners, mothers, the dreaded-mother-in-law, friends, sisters, cousins - are often wont to offer similar advice.  When you have a baby, every one has an opinion and though usually well meant, these opinions can be anything but helpful.  Sylda discusses some all too familiar scenarios in her post this week. Most of our mothers and mothers-in-laws did not breastfeed.  Any attempt you have to do things differently is often met with "sure didn't you/partner turn out grand?" and the misguided assumption that because you are choosing to do something differently from them, you are disparaging the choices they made. Our culture is obsessed with babies being "good" and people are genuinely not familiar with how a biologically normal (i.e. breastfed) baby behaves. Even on my third child on the dreaded day three my own mother kept saying things like "Is that baby feeding AGAIN!?" *sigh*

So if you really want to breastfeed, how do you get around this classic Irish setup for failure?  I spoke with some of the amazingly knowledgeable and experienced women on the Extended Breastfeeding Ireland Facebook Group to get some advice and ideas! 

1. Do your research!

When you decide you want to breastfeed, research ahead of time.  The usual pregnancy books tend to just gloss over breastfeeding, with some of them subtly undermining it.  Learn about the realities of what to expect.  Many Irish women give up in the first two weeks, because they truly are the hardest.  Breastfed newborns feed a LOT! People are not used to this and will give you bad advice.  Breastfed babies will also lose a lot more weight after they're born. This can also be added to if you receive fluids during labour. Medical professionals tend to freak out when they see this weight loss or jaundice and immediately advise supplementation.  Supplementation this early will really hurt your supply and overall journey, so you need to research ahead of time and have a plan in place for if and when this happens.  Get yourself a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  It's published by La Leche League and is a phenomenal resource.  Get it ahead of time and read all about the early days and what to expect. Keep it for when after the baby is born as you will refer to it many times.  Most Irish libraries have a copy.  Jack Newman's book is also an excellent resource, especially if you run into problems.  His online handouts are exceptional as well. Familiarise yourself with all this information.  Kellymom is a fantastic online resource that will tackle any myths you might encounter or problems that might occur.  Read read read.... have realistic expectations and try to find out about other Irish women's experiences and how they dealt with and overcame problems both physical and with the system.

2. Get Support in Advance

I cannot stress this one enough. Go to a breastfeeding group before baby is born!  Please, if you do nothing else on this list, this one could make or break it for you.  I always thought these meetings would be full of hippies and "breastapo", but guess what, they are all just normal mammies like you doing their best.  The advice, support and camraderie received in these groups is second to none, but most importantly if you go to a few meetings in advance you will have a built in support group when baby comes along.  On my second daughter the PHN was telling me to do things that didn't sound right and I rang up one of the leaders from the group I'd been going to for advice.  She was over to my house within an hour popping the kettle on and helping me with latching, sending me to bed with Ciara and watching Ella while we nursed.  Amazing!  Not to say they will all be like this, but those first few weeks are fraught with emotions and hormones and even when you are well read and think you are well prepared sometimes the pressure from a PHN  or GP can have you doubting yourself.  A phone call to someone who has been where you are is often enough to give you the confidence and wherewithal to carry on. The meetings are informative and fun and can be a great way to make friends, especially if you are (or will be) a new Mum.  If you can't get out, find a local group on Facebook or join the absolutely phenomenal EBI group, the women of which seem to be able to help with just about anything and most importantly give you the reassurance that what you are facing is normal and fixable!

3. Educate and inform your family

If you are planning on breastfeeding it is imperative that you inform and educate your family and close support.  You need to prepare your partner especially well.  Let them know realistically that you will be out of commission for a few weeks while you establish breastfeeding. Let them know that you will need help - emotional, practical and physical. Let them know what to expect, that breastfed babies feed often in the first few weeks and that sleeping through the night is not a goal. Make sure your partner is aware of your preferences for birth as well. If you do end up in a situation where you cannot speak for yourself, he/she needs to be able to be your voice.  If you want to breastfeed they need to be able to advocate on your behalf. They should be aware of the various arguments medical professionals might use to support supplementing and be able to counter them, if so desired. Talk to your Mum/Mother-in-law about breastfeeding.  Maybe you'll be lucky and find out they did it and support you, but if not, make sure you tell them that their support is imperative and suggesting bottles or routines will not help.  Keep them busy with other methods of helping such as laundry, cleaning and cooking meals. Mums love to feel useful, make it happen!  Make sure your partner is on board here too, if his/her Mum is talking to them on the sly or trying to tell them you are doing things wrong, it can often reverberate back to you and have an impact on your relationship and emotions. Make sure they know where you stand and are on the same page.

4. Assume you can do it!

This one came up a few times on EBI.  Assume you can do it.  This is what your boobs are made for! Very few people cannot physically breastfeed (I should know, I am one), yet many seem to think they can't due to poor education and bad advice.  There are very few breastfeeding problems that can't be fixed with a bit of education and knowledge and a good lactation consultant (note: the hospital ones are not necessarily the best - if needed, I would recommend seeking out a private one, fees can generally be claimed back through insurance.)  Don't listen to negative stories and keep in mind that the majority of people who say they couldn't breastfeed or didn't make enough milk are most likely misinformed and received bad advice, a classic system failure.

5. Follow your instinct

The best advice I can give any parent is to go with your gut.  If it feels right, do it, naysayers be damned. If someone gives you advice, even a GP or PHN and it doesn't feel right, get a second opinion.  If a routine feels right for you, go for it, if you want to carry your baby, go for it, if you prefer a buggy, go for it.  Don't let anyone tell you what's right for you.  Listen to your baby, listen to your heart and you will find the right path.  Some people are of the persuasion that if you breastfeed you must co-sleep, baby-led wean, baby wear, cloth nappy etc etc.  That's not the case. It's not an all inclusive lifestyle. Mothers from all walks of life and all forms of parenting backgrounds breastfeed, which is precisely why I love the diverse support meetings so much.    Do what is right for you, end of story!

6. Don't feel guilty

One of the wisest things my mother ever told me was that no one else can make you feel guilty.  Guilt is a choice, a choice that brings you and people around you down. If you did the best you could, then so be it. Accept that and don't feel bad, be happy with what you achieved and be happy for other mama's who achieved differently. If you do feel guilty - examine why - don't let it hamper you. You are an amazing mama and whether you lasted a day, a week, a month or a year, every single drop made a difference to your baby and you. Don't assume that just because you see or hear someone promoting breastfeeding that they are judging or undermining your decision to wean early or not even start, because as a self-proclaimed "lactivist" I can assure you, we are not.  What works for one mum may not for another and the most important thing is that you do what is best for YOU and your baby!

What other pieces of advice would you add? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

This post is part of the Irish Parenting Bloggers BlogMarch in support of World Breastfeeding Week running from 1st to 7th August 2013. You can read more about World Breastfeeding Week 2013 here

The Irish Parenting Bloggers’ focus is on community support, particularly in the form of peer-to-peer support and the BlogMarch features our varied breastfeeding experiences, including our experiences with breastfeeding support in Ireland. The full list of posts is available on mama.ie here.