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Opinion 'Fussing about low breastfeeding rates reeks of mother-shaming'

World Breastfeeding Week should be about promoting existing supports, not questioning our rates writes Adrienne Corless.

IT’S WORLD BREASTFEEDING week, and radio talk shows use it as a theme on a slow news day to half-heartedly scrutinize the same old story of “why are Irish breastfeeding rates still so low”.

Yes it’s useful and even necessary to look at the low rates of breastfeeding but how about we don’t take this negative perspective on World Breastfeeding Week of all weeks. Do that on another ordinary week, so we don’t make this week about people who don’t do it instead of those of us who do.

As passionate as I am about breastfeeding as a theme, I’m not interested in promoting it. I don’t think we necessarily can. We can bring it up as a topic, we can discuss it, but it’s personal.

I am interested in promoting breastfeeding support, though. See, there’s a distinction there.

Some women know straight off they don’t wish to breastfeed. And of those who know they do, or are curious to try: the unfortunate truth is that way too many are immediately let down by their health professionals, in the very system that purports to “promote” breastfeeding.

I think fussing about low breastfeeding rates reeks of mother-shaming: whether a woman starts off wanting to, or whether she never wanted to at all. The first comment that Miriam O’Callaghan read out on her RTÉ Radio 1 programme, about this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, was from a woman complaining about how she was made to feel for choosing not to (no doubt by the very people who are at the same time failing the women who do want to).

Every year the same, the papers and the radio, this tiresome negative stance.

‘Importance of good support’

We do have a serious problem that frontline support in the hospitals – where most women breastfeed for the first time – is inconsistent at best. At worst, it’s downright sabotage (however unwittingly). It’s the same with the knowledge that public health nurses have. It’s all too hit and miss.

The great news is that we do have amazing breastfeeding supports in every community in the country. There are three not-profit groups: Friends of Breastfeeding, La Leche League Ireland and Cuidiú. All run groups women that can attend whilst pregnant.

All provide support when baby arrives: for free. And private lactation consultants can be called out to the house for a fee (which can be covered by health insurance). All of these women are experienced, and they are trained, expert, and devoted. They provide vital support to women who want to breastfeed or who are interested in it, and their families. They take texts and calls or host gatherings, all amid their own busy family lives.

It had been weeks with my new baby before I knew these women existed. I remember the first call I made. It’s ten years ago now, but I recall her name was Mary. I cried at her kindness when she rang me back to see how I was doing. I soon found my way to the various homes of these women, as they alternated hosting local coffee mornings. I found help too from women online.

I wished I could have known when I was pregnant that I’d need it, but gradually I found my own breastfeeding tribe.

During World Breastfeeding Week, we have a particular opportunity to highlight the importance of good support, and to celebrate the amazing, silent army of women who provide it.

Adrienne Corless is a blogger, yoga teacher, and archaeologist. She is a mother of three and is the founder of Yoga Bloom, a hub for pregnant women and new mothers in rural Wexford.

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