THANKS to active support groups, there are women in Ireland who embrace breastfeeding wholeheartedly. So enthusiastically, in fact, that they breastfeed their children until they self wean. And this might happen at two, at four, or even older than that.
What though, do their husbands make of this practice? Especially in Ireland, which is still, largely, a bottle feeding culture. Jolene Keating, of www.friendsof breastfeeding.ie says that it’s something that creeps up, rather than something that’s planned.
“It doesn’t bother many men,” she says, “but I have heard of some dads who are conscious of feeding a child in certain places and in front of certain people. They would try and distract the child, rather than let him feed.
“The benefits of feeding longer term have been highlighted recently,” she says, “and there is an increase in longer term breastfeeding. It’s still rare to see mums feeding older babies in public, because they don’t want to be seen. It would be great if our culture could be more open.”
Jenny Foxe is still feeding her younger son, Damon, at almost five. And her husband, George Foxe, is in total support. And he always has been.
“I was breastfed, and most of my family were,” he says. “It’s normal. I bonded with the boys through changing nappies and bathing them. And I didn’t have to get up at 2am, in the early days, potter around in bare feet getting some potion to the right consistency and temperature. Why would I mind missing out on that?”
What about now. Do others find it strange?
“People do have a small reaction to it, yes. And they’re entitled to state their opinion. But if they want to see the children they have to respect that this is what we are doing.
“Our view of women’s bodies is skewed,” he says. “We’ve been conditioned by the church, and by marketing to sexualise breasts. They are sexual, but they’re not primarily that. My children are being fed by my mate, and that is sexy. It makes her desirable.”
Doesn’t he sometimes get jealous of the closeness breastfeeding brings?
“When they were small, I was instinctively jealous of her ability to soothe them instantly, but I knew the closeness with their mother was what was best for a baby. And now, it’s important to Damon, because growing up is difficult for him. He wants to keep young.
“Damon does, sometimes, bug me a bit. I might ask him to do something, and he’ll breastfeed, and say, ‘I’m just doing this. And you can’t stop me, because this is my thing.’ A little power struggle goes on, and I have to be mature about it, because he is not!”
Eamonn Lawlor, a dad of three children aged six, four, and 17 months, comes from a bottle feeding culture. His French wife, Tania, does not. Her mother, and her grandmother all breastfed, and she had never considered anything else. Eamonn was happy to support her.
“What she decided was fine by me. If Tania had decided to bottle feed our children, I’d have gone along with that, too.”
Some of his family, though, found the breastfeeding a tad unsettling.
“When our first, Oisín, was small some relations arrived to see him. One man got a bit of a fright when he saw Tania feeding the child. Poor man, I don’t think he’d seen a breast in years! My family take no notice now. A few cousins have breastfed as well.”
Does he ever feel jealous of the closeness breastfeeding brings?
“The children do ask for mummy first. I might have a moment of ill feeling, but the long-term benefits outweigh anything I might feel. I get over it. And Muireann is closest to me. I don’t know why; I haven’t done anything different, but when I come home she wants to jump up to me straight away.”
Eamonn gets teased by his colleagues for baby-wearing. But he doesn’t care.
“Carriers are handy,” he says. “People say, ‘you’ll lose your testosterone, but feeling a child falling asleep is a beautiful thing.”