I must've been a 'let down' to my Mum. She breastfed all three of her children. Not something I remember, but she certainly talked about it, so I knew it was the thing to do if you had children.
But I hadn't given much thought to the business of babies before I fell pregnant with my first child. I was broody, sure, but there was no real planning involved. And in those pre-internet days I just got on with the pregnancy, swallowed the folic acid and gave up eating soft cheese. Ante-natal classes were mostly about labour and birth. How you fed your baby was not given much attention. I knew that breast-feeding was the ideal but the truth is that it didn't sound very appealing.
And even now breast-feeding rates in Ireland are low by international standards - only 56% per cent even try it (ESRI figures 2012), so perhaps the things that put me off breast-feeding in the 1990s are still relevant today.
These were my impressions of breastfeeding - please do not take them personally! I guess they need to be challenged but please be respectful...
1. Breast-feeding proponents in the early 1990s reminded me of my school headmistress. They lectured you and expected obedience. You were told that "good" mothers breastfed their babies, that it might be hard, but you mustn't give up, just grit your teeth and carry on. It was portrayed as another chore, like changing pooey nappies.
2. I had this idea that to establish breast-feeding you had to stay in bed for the first few weeks, supported of course by your extended family and friends, who would look after the house, any other children and provide hot meals and anything else that was needed. With no family in Dublin and just a handful of friends, who were also up to their necks in nappies at the time, I just knew that there was no way that I would get that kind of support.
3. Then there was the whole image of the breast-feeding Mum. They seemed to see motherhood as a vocation, and they were mostly mothers in the home, who seemed to rarely venture out - a Mum in a cafe with a baby would always be bottle-feeding. Breastfeeding sounded very restrictive, while bottle feeding looked easy and normal. Especially if you were heading back into the workplace.
4. The horror stories around breast-feeding rivalled those of birth: bleeding cracked nipples, biting babies, mastitis, sleeplessness, exhaustion, but over months and months, not just the 24 hours or so of labour. The thought of volunteering to put yourself through more pain post-birth was just too much to bear.
5. It also sounded like hard work: perhaps I'm a control freak, but the thought of feeding every couple of hours - or even more often - terrified me. How would you ever plan anything ever again? Well until you weaned the baby obviously. And what about sleep? Your partner can help if you bottle-feed. And with a maternity leave of only 12 weeks back then, I needed my baby to be feeding and sleeping to some kind of schedule by the time I went back to work - I only just achieved that as it was!
6. No-one ever tried to persuade me to try breastfeeding, not while I was pregnant, or on the postnatal ward. I may have been asked how I was planning to feed my baby and the SMA was handed over as soon as I mentioned bottle-feeding. Every other mother on the 14-bed ward did the same thing - I don't recall seeing any babies being breast fed at all. And so it went on.
When Smiley was born at 26 weeks, I was encouraged to express milk for her, and I did. But it dried up after about 6 weeks, and no-one suggested anything to help the milk keep flowing. By the time my son was born, my life was so busy that there was no possibility of putting in the time and effort to breastfeed, so the bottles were taken out of the attic yet again...
Times have changed and breastfeeding seems much more normal now. But I didn't really take an interest. That changed after I joined the Irish Parenting Bloggers group, and promised to share some of their posts from a recent breastfeeding blog march. I read some of them too, and they presented breastfeeding in a completely different way. They were written with great affection about the joys of breastfeeding, and I started to wonder if I'd missed out on something after all...
Like this one by At the Clothesline
But there was one other reason why I didn't try breastfeeding. And you'll have to wait for Part 2 for that!
Details of the Blog March for National Breastfeeding Week by the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group can be found at Mama.ie.
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