ESRI Study: Irish-born mothers less likely to breastfeed
The ESRI Report on Growing Up in Ireland 2010 was released today, November 29th. It makes for interesting reading. The news headlines are all focused on the high percentage of women who admit to drinking and smoking during pregnancy. But my attention was drawn to the figures on breastfeeding.
3.6.1 BREASTFEEDING AND SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES
Mothers who had not been born in Ireland (who made up 27% of all mothers) were much more likely to breastfeed their infants than Irish-born mothers (83% compared to 48%). For both Irish-born and non-Irishborn mothers, breastfeeding was less likely among those with the lowest education
83% versus 48% – that’s quite a difference. And most Irish women who did breastfeed had ceased to do so by the time the baby was three months old.
I breastfed Little Man exclusively until six weeks, and then combined with formula feeding until I weaned him at seven months. And having done so, I’m actually surprised those figures aren’t lower. In theory, there is lots of support out there for breastfeeding. At least that’s the impression, I got in the hospital. But in practice, society is not always supportive of breastfeeding in Ireland.
In the hospital, I had huge difficulties getting started with breastfeeding. And the amount of support I received was completely dependent on which midwife was on duty. I got to see a lactation consultant on the third day after asking several times. And in the precious 5-10 minutes that I spent with her, she managed to get Little Man to latch on and she got me started with breastfeeding. The tips I got from her, combined with a very helpful and understanding midwife on duty that night, meant that by the time I left the hospital the following day, I was managing to feed Little Man.
I was also lucky that my mother had breastfed. She had answers to a lot of my questions. From speaking to other new mothers, it seems that having this support and experience to draw on is unusual. And I know that my own grandmother didn’t breastfeed. So that makes me wonder, how much breastfeeding knowledge has been lost in this country? Breastfeeding is natural, but unless you are lucky and encounter no problems, it is also something that you need to learn to do, something that needs to be taught to you. How many helpful little tips and tricks that women used in the past were lost when the majority switched to formula feeding?
I was also lucky that the Breastfeeding Support Group in my local town is great. There were several weeks where I wanted to quit and I thought to myself, “I’ll just wait until I ask the girls at the group about this on Wednesday and then I’ll decide.” And by the time Wednesday rolled around, whatever problem I was encountering would have resolved itself, or one of the girls in the group would have a tip to help me out.
When you’re out and about in Ireland, if you need to breastfeed your baby, there aren’t many places that make it convenient. I was very shy about breastfeeding in public, and in the beginning I was nervous that someone would say something to me about it. Unfortunately, places like the wonderful feeding room in Dundrum Town Centre are few and far between. And the sight of a woman breastfeeding in public is still unusual enough that it tends to draw attention.
I think it’s a shame that so many women switch to formula feeding at three months. But I also think there’s an expectation there that you will wean the baby at three months. There seems to be an idea there that breastfeeding is for newborns. And feeding a baby any older than that is slightly “icky”. I know several people – friends, family, and strangers – said to me “You’re still feeding him?” when I continued to breastfeed after three months. It seemed like it was unexpected.
If the numbers of Irish women who breastfeed is to increase to bring it in line with the numbers of non-Irish born women who breastfeed, I think that a change is attitude is going to be important. It seems to me that breastfeeding is considered the alternative rather than the norm in Ireland. Almost as though it’s something extra you can do if you want, not just the normal way you would feed your baby.