herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

where breastfeeding mums can feel at home

It's depressing to read the statistics. According to reports only 43pc of Irish babies are exclusively breastfed after they're born. Compare that to 99pc in Norway and you have to start asking questions. Those of us who do breastfeed stop quite early: by the time an Irish baby is 12 weeks old only one in five is still being exclusively breastfed.

Where other nations embrace this natural act, we seem to view it as optional, which explains why plenty of Irish babies never taste breast milk in their lives. We've one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe, and this has hardly changed despite several Government initiatives. It all boils down to attitude: if breastfeeding isn't seen as the norm, then parents will continue to shun the practice.

Despite stacks of research showing the multiple benefits for both mum and baby we just don't seem to get it. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a newborn needs to grow and develop, while boosting baby's immune system and forming a deep bond that bottle feeding simply can't. Plus it's free and you can feed on demand, anywhere, without needing sterilised bottles or equipment.

Let me stop myself for a second. I did just say that you can breastfeed anywhere, but that isn't always the case. Despite it being a wholly natural act, much of Irish society isn't mature enough to accept breastfeeding as the norm. We hear stories of staff sending breastfeeding mums away in cafes, older people telling women they're disgusting, teenagers pointing and gawping, and establishments insisting 'this kind of behaviour' isn't acceptable in a public space.



intimate

For me, breastfeeding was a no-brainer. Despite a slow and tricky start with my first-born I grew to love the close and intimate experience. He was breastfed until eight months old, my second son until nine months and my daughter, who was premature, until 11 months old.

Admittedly I found it tricky to get used to feeding in public, and, given the choice, would prefer to feed behind closed doors than in full view of a cafe or restaurant. I accept that breastfeeding is an intimate act, so, like most feeding mums, I took care to cover up myself and be as discrete as possible. It took practice to latch baby on in public, but some clever draping with a blanket or scarf and you'd hardly know there was anything going on.

I fed my babies in restaurants, at weddings, in planes, at friends' tables, and in hotels. No matter where I did it I felt self-conscious knowing there could be an objector around any corner. I rarely met any, but sometimes received judgmental glances, as well as welcome supportive smiles.

I always felt vulnerable though, which is just wrong, and hated breastfeeding alone in public. It's a shame that our culture doesn't see breastfeeding as normal and natural. It's a shame women feel they need to choose between breast and bottle when it's clear that breast is best.

Several people I know have found the stress of public breastfeeding too much to bear. I sympathise, but do know that there are several comfy spots around the city with private breastfeeding rooms. Arm yourselves with this knowledge, and make sure it's you, and not some ignorant stranger, who dictates how your child is fed.

Best for breastfeeding baby: Marks & Spencer stores, Brown Thomas, House of Fraser, IKEA, Dundrum Town Centre, Blanchardstown Centre, Foodlife at Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, Mothercare, ILAC, Debenhams, Arnotts, Dunnes Stores, Henry Street, Dublin Zoo, Penneys, O'Connell Street. Insomnia and Costa Coffee shops operate breast feeding-friendly policies too.

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