Celebrating National Breastfeeding Week 2021
As part of National Breastfeeding Week 2021 we wanted to open our blog to share your breastfeeding stories!
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Topics Covered in Our Featured Story
-Breastfeeding and Returning to Work
-Breastfeeding Toddlers and Children
-Issues Faced and Overcome
-Ease of Breastfeeding
-Travelling and Breastfeeding
-The Six Month Myth
-Breastfeeding Barriers & Recommendations
Sinéad’s Breastfeeding Story – Part 2
As a novice breast-feeder, I asked lots of questions from anyone I thought may have the answers. I sent texts to a friend’s sister because I knew she had breastfed her kids to ask for advice about breast pumps. There are a lot on the market and she excellently suggested a brand that worked really well for her and it was not the most expensive on the market. I took her advice and never looked back.
It was a double pump so she advised me to get a pumping bra to wear while using it. Best advice ever! I could eat, change the channel on the tv or read, as my hands were free from holding the suction pads up. I found it tricky to know when to pump in the beginning as my baby was feeding every three hours so I used to feed him, wait an hour, pump, and an hour later he was ready for another feed and the hour had given my breasts a chance to produce enough milk for the next feed. I only did it once a day for a few months and stored the milk in the freezer so that if I wanted to go for a run/swim/walk and have a shower after, I could leave baby with Nanny, Granny, or Hubby and not be in a panic to return for the next feed as baby had enough expressed milk in a bottle.
Now bottles were another hurdle to overcome. Again, in the programmes/movies/ads, the baby peacefully and silently drinks happily from a bottle; this was not quite my reality. It took weeks of trying the baby with the bottle before he took it. And by the time he reached 6 months I moved him onto a straw cup anyway, so it felt like a little bit of a wasted exercise. However, I did not regret it and I did the same on babies number two and three because I had a fear that if something happened to me that meant I could not feed for any reason, if I got sick or if I had to go to the hospital for any reason, I wanted the baby to have a back-up option.
Like my mother, I had an experience at one particular breastfeeding group that caused me to never go back. Unlike the public health nurse group, this new group was not run by nurses, but rather by mothers with lots of experience passing on their wisdom. Initially, it was super and they served tea and biscuits and it was all very lovely and relaxed. Until one day I asked a question about giving babies bottles of expressed milk, looking for advice on how to get my baby to take the bottle. The lady in charge that day looked at me as if I had two heads…’Why would you want to give your baby a bottle?’ she asked, in a judgmental tone that made me feel ridiculous at even suggesting I might offer my baby a bottle. It was then that I realised that this group felt a bit too strict for me with all of these ‘Breastfeeding Rules’ that we all must obey. I did not go back.
When my second baby was four months old, I saw a post on Facebook about milk donation. I didn’t even realise that this was a thing people could do when I had my first baby in 2015. Around the same time, I saw the Blood Bike volunteers speaking about it on “The Late Late Show” and how they help to deliver breastmilk to babies in need all around the country. I emailed the milk bank to make enquiries. Unfortunately, my baby was too old to start donating as you have to be registered to donate before your baby is three months old.
I promised myself if I ever had a third child I definitely would. Third time lucky, I successfully registered. I expressed milk on baby one and baby two in order to exercise, to get a break and to go places. I had baby number three in December 2019. I had planned to donate anyway but, as it happened, I had nowhere to go due to the global pandemic in 2020, so all of the milk I expressed was donated. I managed to donate 16 litres of breastmilk to the only Milk Bank in Ireland which is located in Fermanagh.
Breastmilk can really help vulnerable babies and it is extremely good at preventing serious infections in premature babies. For a variety of reasons their Mammies may not be able to provide any or enough breastmilk at the time of their birth and that is where breastmilk donation can be a HUGE source of help. I was lucky enough to have a good supply and my baby was happy to share!
Breastfeeding Toddlers and Children
I found breastfeeding beyond the age of one a happy and exciting experience! However, I never did it in public! I had no problem breastfeeding my baby in public for the first few months but I was a little embarrassed at feeding a toddler in public because of what people would think of me and because I had never seen it in public so it was quite rare. Another reason was that my toddler would have been very easily distracted so, if I had tried, the toddler would have spent more time looking around than actually feeding! At that stage I was feeding in the morning straight after my toddler woke, in the peace and quiet of the nursery. And, again, when I collected him from crèche, I fed him in the peace and quiet of the nursery. I look back at those feeds with very fond memories.
Tandem Feeding/Feeding Through Pregnancy
I never experienced tandem feeding or feeding through pregnancy, as I always stopped feeding before I got pregnant again. I was not very aware of these concepts at the time. I possibly may have tried it had I known. But then again, being pregnant and experiencing morning sickness may have resulted in me stopping before my next baby was born anyway!
Breastfeeding and Returning to Work
I returned to work after a year on each of my babies. I felt it was necessary to take this much time off to make breastfeeding successful for me. I knew my own limits and getting up in the middle of the night to breastfeed and then to have to try to go to work the next day would have been very difficult for me. Therefore, I saved as much leave time as I could pre-birth in order to afford the time off.
By the time my babies were one year old, they were sleeping through the night and only breastfeeding two times a day. I would feed them in the morning and the evening and give them a third feed after their nap at the weekends. I really enjoyed the evening feed – which I would do as soon as we got home, as it made me feel connected to them after being out at work all day.
I really enjoyed feeding them past 12 months; it fascinated me watching them get bigger and bigger and developing little personalities and still really enjoying feeding off me. I stopped at around 15months on baby one and two in order to try for another baby each time.
I thought I would feed my third baby forever, as I knew I didn’t want to try for a fourth baby, and part of me wanted to continue feeding her until she could talk so we could chat about it together. But at around 16 months, I felt like it was the right time for me to stop. I knew I did not want to feed indefinitely until she self-weaned. I also thought that the older she got, the harder it would be to stop. I could stop now and easily distract her with other things and it wouldn’t be too much of a change for her, but if I kept going until she was older, I don’t think it would have been as easy to distract her with other things.
In the end, our breastfeeding journey ended without too much of a fuss. I reduced the feeds to one a day over the space of a week and kept that last feed going for another week and then stopped. I felt emotional about our journey ending and also about my own journey ending. It was almost 6 years of pregnancy and breastfeeding coming to an end. I was sad to let go of this period of my life, but was also excited at thoughts of the next chapter of parenthood and what it would bring for my family.
Issues Faced and Overcome
Over the three babies, I had a relatively smooth experience overall. The biggest issue I faced was in the first two weeks of feeding my second baby. He was feeding constantly but did not seem satisfied. The latch was painful and my breasts felt and looked like they were about to burst.
The lovely nurse who delivered the breastfeeding workshop had given us her mobile number and so I texted her very early one Friday morning. She replied and told me I could go in to see her that day. I was elated! She observed me feeding, looked in my baby’s mouth and suggested it was a tongue tie.
She gave me the name and number of a local clinic that specialised in lasering tongue ties. We got a very prompt appointment. I followed with daily exercises, massaging the wound, and a few trips to the osteopath. Thankfully the problem resolved within a couple of weeks.
Ease of Breastfeeding
As I never exclusively bottle fed, so I cannot compare the ease of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding. However, I did express breastmilk and bottle-feed my babies on the odd occasion if I was dressed up in an outfit that was not breastfeeding friendly (for example, at my babies christening at three months).
I found it very convenient that I didn’t have to worry about breastfeeding in front of people at a public gathering with lots of family around. I always felt comfortable feeding in public if it was in a café and I was with other breastfeeding mothers, but there were times when I was around family or in a church that I did not feel comfortable.
However, I can say that in the early days when I was feeding the baby round the clock, I found breastfeeding extremely easy rather than making up bottles all through the night!
Travelling and Breastfeeding
I’ll be honest, I have not travelled much in the last 6 years since I started having babies. However, I did make one trip to Kerry when we just had our first baby and it was very convenient that I didn’t have to worry about packing bottles or formula. Our baby was only 3 months, so I didn’t even have to worry about utensils for feeding solids. It was just baby and me and nothing else… apart from a suitcase full of clothes and nappies!
Barriers to Breastfeeding & Recommendations
As I come to the end of my breastfeeding journey, I’ve had time to look back and reflect on this journey and the wider global journey of breastfeeding in our culture. I have spoken to many expectant mothers about breastfeeding and have helped new mothers with breastfeeding advice based on my own experiences. And what I have observed is that it is a tricky business trying to give advice in a helpful way when you only have your own experience to go by. I never want to seem pushy about breastfeeding but at the same time I want to encourage women to believe in themselves, to believe in their body, and give them the confidence that they can breastfeed if they want to.
It can be hard work, it can be sore, it can be highly frustrating, but I’ve found the most rewarding things in life are the hardest. In most cases, when I have spoken to mothers that do not want to breastfeed, it is often a lack of confidence that stops them from even trying. Other times I have come across women that have tried and it has not worked for them due to lack of the essential support and advice that they needed to help them to succeed. I have come across other women who have stopped feeding around six months because there is a myth out there that six months is all the baby needs, which is what I’d also thought for years.
This is usually the time a lot of women must return to work for financial reasons. However, in my experience, those first six months are the hardest months to breastfeed and it actually gets a whole lot easier after six months because, while you are still breastfeeding, your baby is also eating solid food, so they are not 100% dependent on you. Also, while the first six months of breastfeeding are really important nutritionally, there are a thousand benefits to continue breastfeeding beyond six months.
I felt a huge sense of pride after feeding my baby for six months with the thought that I kept my baby alive, all by myself, from a product produced by my own body. It felt amazing. I would highly recommend it to everyone I meet. Beyond twelve months, breastfeeding continues to have huge benefits for bonding and providing antibodies which help to strengthen the baby’s immune system.
The WHO recommends women breastfeed up to two years and beyond. In a perfect world, where people have all the financial, emotional, and educational support that they need to help make this happen, it would be a wonderful thing. For me, I was unable to go beyond sixteen months. For some, they breastfeed until their child is three or four years old or more. The length of time a mother breastfeeds can vary hugely from mother to mother. If a mum only breastfeeds for the first few days, their baby gets colostrum, sometimes referred to as ‘Liquid Gold’, which is a highly nutritious substance for the baby and gives the mum a chance to see what it feels like to breastfeed and then decide if it is for them or not.
Some mothers go straight to bottle feeding to return to medication they stopped taking while pregnant. Some mothers go straight to bottle feeding because it was what their mother did, what their sisters did and they don’t question whether they will or not. Many mothers go straight to bottle-feeding for a variety of reasons. I believe if there were more supports, advice, and education about not only the benefits of breastfeeding but also HOW to breastfeed in different ways for different circumstances and letting people know that most people are clueless before they start, that not everyone who breastfeeds are fully knowledgeable breastfeeding experts before they begin, then some myths about breastfeeding might be dispelled that can scare new mothers away before even starting.
Essential to mothers getting the support they need to breastfeed is having a place to ask questions. As we have seen during the pandemic, many groups/classes have been cancelled. Even in ordinary times, mothers may not be able to make these groups for a variety of reasons. A combination of face to face and online meetings would be greatly beneficial. Also, having a place where mothers could ask questions and for help, in the moment, as they need it, such as a helpline for breastfeeding, would be ideal. A breastfeeding buddy system could also work really well, where a person with experience helps a new mother adapt to breastfeeding and is at the other end of the phone when needed. Putting systems like these in place would be hugely beneficial to each mother individually and also, to breastfeeding globally.
Editor’s Note & Breastfeeding Resources
Please note that breastfeeding stories shared on our blog are meant for the purposes of sharing personal experiences only and should therefore not be used as a substitute for expert care like that available from International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). A full list of Ireland’s IBCLCs can be found via the Association of Lactation Consultants in Ireland’s website here.
Equally the opinions expressed remain that of the storyteller and, therefore, it should not be assumed that Well Fed Photography or its subsidiaries share the expressed opinions of the storyteller.
In response to the breastfeeding support recommendations expressed by the storyteller, we thought it would be helpful to share similar resources that are presently available in Ireland, as well as other helpful breastfeeding resources for anyone who may need them.
Thank You for Sharing Your Story
We’d like to thank Sinéad Uí Chiaragáin for submitting her story for our readers to enjoy.
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