“In other cultures the mums, aunts and friends all breastfed and it is part of the norm but we don’t have that here, it’s a very new culture to us,” says Orla, a practice nurse who qualified as a IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) last year and is based in North East Cork.
Rates are increasing she says particularly in areas where mothers have better access to support groups run by the HSE or parent-to-parent support organisations like Friends of Breastfeeding.
The two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers, which came into effect last year, is also making a difference, she feels, while the new interactive HSE website, breastfeeding.ie, which provides online support from lactation consultants is a good resource.
“A lot of mothers think that breastfeeding is going to be too hard and yes, it can be tough going for the first six weeks but that’s true with any new baby. There’s usually no reason why you cannot breastfeed — if that’s what you want to do.
“Though breastfeeding is natural, it is also a learned skill. There can be challenges along the way, I call them ‘speed bumps’ but most are easily fixed.”
Like most Irish women, Orla had no experience of breastfeeding growing up. After qualifying and working as a nurse in London, she moved to Australia where early breastfeeding is the norm.
Her interest grew as she observed nursing mothers while working as volunteer nurse in a rural community in Guatemala.
“It all seemed so normal and natural and easy, the mothers and grandmothers were there to provide support and advice and I thought: This is how it is meant to happen.”
Moving to Cork and working as a practice nurse with new parents and then breastfeeding her two little boys, gave her the incentive to set up her support service Lactation Talk.
“It’s not really work to me, it’s about helping other people. It’s about empowering women to make choices about feeding their baby, to have the confidence to know that what they are doing is right and also to know when to reach out to the support services that are available when something is not right, or just when they need reassurance.”
Orla offers a one-and-a-half hour home consultation which addresses common difficulties and concerns with breastfeeding, such painful nursing and attachment difficulties, or worries about the frequency of feeds and if your baby is getting enough milk.
Tongue tie, a condition which affects about 10% of babies and causes feeding difficulties for some, can be diagnosed by a lactation consultant. She can give advice on increasing a low milk supply or if your newborn is slow to gain weight.
Evin O’Keeffe’s first little boy was born early and she was unable to breastfeed. When she became pregnant with her second child, she was determined to try again. Aidan, now four months, also arrived early and needed to be given formula.
It took 10 weeks but with Orla’s support, Evin was able to reach her goal of breastfeeding Aidan during the day, with bottles at night.
“It was a very different experience this time, thanks to Orla listening to what I wanted and troubleshooting my breastfeeding and latching issues. Orla’s pragmatic approach, not just her medical expertise but also her calm compassion as a mother, is very reassuring.”
Orla recommends that couples who are considering breastfeeding spend time preparing before their baby is born and suggests take a breastfeeding class to get things off to a good start.
“You wouldn’t start driving a car without taking a few lessons,” she says.
Her three-hour class covers the basics, such as different feeding positions and how to tell when your baby is hungry.
In the early days when mum is exhausted, it’s often the dads who are better able to recall her advice she says, although the class includes a 36-page booklet to take home.
“Breastfed babies don’t always need winding and that is the part of the class when I like to hand the doll to Daddy. There is a lot more to looking after a baby than feeding.
Dads can change nappies and their strong arms are great to hold baby securely in the bath. It gives Mum a break and when Daddy does skin to skin, it’s just as good.”
- Continue to eat well and often, as during pregnancy. Drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. Oats, for example, a bowl of porridge and some fennel tea — up to three cups a day — will help to increase milk supply.
- Put a little bag together to have within easy reach during a feed. Include a bottle of water and some snacks and, if you wish, your phone. This is especially useful when you are on your own at home and there is no one to fetch anything for you.
- Soothe and protect sore nipples with Lansinoh lanolin cream, €14.99. It is safe for baby and does not have to be removed before a feed. Multi-Mam Compresses, €14.99, can be used after a feed to ease any discomfort.
- The Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump, €19.99, is a one-piece hand pump for expressing milk as your baby gets older and for relief if engorged.