Good Health begins with Breastfeeding

Good health begins with breastfeeding.  As it’s National Breastfeeding week, I thought I’d share a picture of my favourite breastfed baby with you.

Breastfeeding in Ireland

My little grandson wasn’t too concerned with the idea of posing for a photo as he had much more important things to do. Nor did he bother supporting the Irish Soccer team at the UEFA championships in June.  No, at six weeks of age, he had become a proficient feeder and knew how to go about it.  I had repeatedly told his Mum (my eldest daughter) that once the six week watershed is reached, a magical gear-shift happens and everything becomes a lot easier. And so it did.

To mark the occasion, I asked her a few questions and I present her answers here in the hope that it will encourage more women to begin and to continue breastfeeding.

Q. Before he was born, did you give much thought to breastfeeding?

A. I had more or less decided that I would breastfeed. I was breastfed, all my siblings were breastfed.  My husband was very supportive as it was the same in his family.  People said that it could be very difficult but weren’t specific. I wasn’t expecting it to be so sore at the beginning.

Q. What kind of support did you get?

A. Everybody told me something different. Even in hospital, one of the large Dublin maternity hospitals, all the midwives had something different to say..

‘leave him 10 minutes exactly on each side’

‘empty one side completely before switching to the other’….

I was surprised at the variation as I would have expected everyone in an organization to be trained to give similar advice. It was really confusing.  I would advise anyone considering breastfeeding to find someone you trust, someone who has breastfed, and take their advice.

Q. How did it work out when you came home from hospital?

He was born on Wednesday and I came home on Saturday. My milk came in that day, and I thought I would burst.  The first week at home was a shock to the system!  My nipples were quite sore, especially the left one and he had a bit if trouble latching on.  The Public Health Nurse visited  on Monday and suggested that I send someone into town to buy a Medela Swing Pump. This worked well as it kept the left breast going while allowing the nipple to heal. All of that milk was fed to the baby by bottle. Luckily he was happy to take a bottle- we didn’t need to give him any formula as my supply was good.

Q How often did the Public Health Nurse visit?

Yes, she came on the Monday after he was born, weighed the baby, checked his reflexes etc. She gave some routine advice about breastfeeding but had no experience of breastfeeding herself.   She came back when he was 9 days old and weighed him again. Her colleague, another Public Health Nurse (PHN) who runs the Breastfeeding Clinic in our local Health Centre every Friday morning, is a mum herself and has breastfed her own babies. Over the weeks, her advice has been much more to the point.

Q. For example?

A. She says that people who haven’t breastfed tend to obsess more about measuring the baby’s weight since they’re uncomfortable that you can’t measure how much milk the baby is consuming.

Her criteria are-

  • Six to eight wet nappies a day
  • One to two dirty nappies a day
  • You know if your baby is happy. Trust your own judgment.
  • Self –doubt is huge at the start. Worry about the baby is huge too. It all settles very quickly

Q. Any other help?

Yes, I rang La Leche League and a consultant came to see me. She was SO helpful, reassured me that I was doing everything right, that the cracked nipple would heal, and that I just needed to persevere.

Q. Did you go to the clinic often?

A. Yes, every Friday morning.  It’s the loveliest atmosphere. There’s a warm room and a large weighing scales for babies.  Another, more experienced mum will show you how it works.  The PHN is there, ready to have a quiet word with anyone who asks, and happy to examine if there’s a breast/nipple/feeding problem.  At the start, you look at the mums whose babies are a few weeks older than yours, and you wonder if you’ll ever become so confident.  Before long, you’re one of the women sharing tips and remembering how insecure you felt when you had a newborn baby.

It was at the Breastfeeding Club at the Health Centre that I heard about the Elbow Room in Stonybatter and its Mother and Baby Yoga class. A gang of us try to go to the Lighthouse Cinema Parent and Baby Screening every Wednesday morning…it’s great fun.

We often go for coffee after the Breastfeeding Club. It’s hard to find a place that can take half a dozen or more buggies, but we go the local McDonald’s  near the Health Centre.

Q. Is there anything you think might have prepared you better for breastfeeding?

A. Hard to say. The ante-natal classes covered it well but I was very focused on the birth.  Looking back, the birth was limited in terms of time….I mean, there was no way the hospital was going to let it go on forever…..but breastfeeding goes on and on.  They should probably prepare you for how difficult it might be at the start, and how much your nipples hurt until you get  established, but they may be afraid they’ll put people off. You can be lucky or unlucky with the PHN at the local clinic. Apart from specialist expertise, they’re very over-stretched and have to cover a lot of different types of patients.

Q. How many of your friends have chosen to breastfeed?

A. Most of my friends have chosen to breastfeed, and have stayed at it for a few months.  But I’m the first one of my close circle to have a baby, so it’s all new. I have all these new mates from the breastfeeding club and we do things like yoga, cinema, walks in the park together. It’s a kind of self-selection, I suppose. I actually don’t know anybody who formula-feeds their baby.

Q. What are the upsides and downsides of breastfeeding?

A. Well, the main upside is the nutritional benefit of mother’s milk to the baby. Apart from that, it’s so easy, and so intimate. You form this wonderful, special bond with your baby. You know him so well and he knows you.  Another thing- once the feeding is well established, after two weeks, the weight just falls off you. I was back to pre-pregnancy weight by the time he was six weeks old.

The only downside is that you have to express and store milk if you’re going out for a few hours. But you have to do that anyway because it’s important that he’ll take a bottle from someone else.  His Dad loves to snuggle up with him and give him a bottle of expressed milk.

Oh, and not being able to eat rhubarb, chillies or more than a glass of red wine. They really upset the baby’s digestion. I found out the hard way.

Q. Are there any problems breastfeeding a baby in public?

A. No. You think there will be, but there aren’t.  I remember my first visit to Arnotts when he was about two weeks old. We found a quiet corner and snuggled up. Once he latched on, I looked around and saw several other mums feeding babies- it was no big deal at all. One of the guys working in the café in Arnotts brought my tray to the table, got cutlery, glass of water etc and couldn’t have been more helpful. All the Insomnia cafés are great for breastfeeding. Marks & Spencers, Brown Thomas and Arnotts all have rooms put aside. So has Dundrum Town Centre, though I haven’t been there.  Avoca makes you very welcome with a small baby. Honest 2 Goodness Market in Glasnevin Industrial Estate is good too and has a children’s play area. To be honest, it’s more of an issue to find a café that’s navigable with a buggy.

Q What advice would you give to an expectant mum thinking about breastfeeding?


-Choose an advisor who has breastfed their own babies and rely on them. Don’t be confused by all the conflicting advice you get from other people.  Lots of them, even the professionals, haven’t a clue.

-Buy the right clothes- nursing bras and tops- in advance. I got some great ones that really work and make breastfeeding SO discrete. Mind you, I’m tired looking at them, but that’s not the issue.

-Buy a pump before the baby is born. You’ll need it sooner or later, so don’t end up needing it at short notice like I did.

-Drink Guinness, or whatever dark beer you like.   It’s very relaxing to settle down, feed your baby and drink a Guinness. I really felt that it boosted my milk supply.

– Nothing can prepare you for how rewarding it is.  At the start you’re bewildered, confused and sleep-deprived.  By six weeks you have a handle on it, you know your baby’s nature, his needs, his responses.   You can meet his needs and your own all at the same time- perfect!

I had planned to include some of the sciency bit  about the benefits of breastfeeding as with every passing day, scientists discover more about how good it is for babies, both short- and long-term.  But that can wait for another day.  Follow this link, or this one if you’d like to know more.

Breastfeeding is more an Art than a Science. Find someone who knows the art to show you the way and you will succeed.  Persevere- it’s worth it.  Send me a comment if you have a query….I was once that insecure new mum myself.

Good Luck!

About haysparks

Viewing the world, the human condition, our history, evolution and health through the prism of food.
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2 Responses to Good Health begins with Breastfeeding

  1. Nóirín Nic a' Bháird says:

    Great article! Just a few comments. Sore nipples are very painful I know but it looks to me like this little fella is not being held high enough up and this often results in not latching on properly. A pillow or cushion under him would help a lot.
    The variation in advice is really annoying especially from the professionals. The PHN’s criteria (in this article) for good breastfeeding are not all accurate. Two dirty nappies a day is not an indicator of enough feeding. Many breast-fed babies have a dirty nappy once a week or less. One of mine didn’t have one for 3 weeks!! That’s because they absorb everything in the breast milk. Nóirín

    • haysparks says:

      Thanks for that, Nóirín. that’s what I mean about the Art of Breastfeeding- an experienced Mum can read the situation so well, and reassure the inexperienced one too! Will pass it on.

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