I’m still thinking about breastfeeding, given the week that’s in it. (Actually, August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the US, so I can go on and on with this.)
I’ve always wondered why the Irish have such terrible breastfeeding rates. Because we really do. According to the ERSI, just over half of mothers (56 per cent) currently initiate breastfeeding in Ireland, compared to 81 per cent in the UK and over 90 per cent in Scandinavian states.* Only 22% of babies are still breastfed at 3 months, with that number dropping below 10% by 6 months. In the USA, by contrast, almost half of babies are still breastfed at 6 months** – no small feat considering how many of those mothers had to go back to work and start pumping milk from as soon as six weeks post-partum.
In the wonderful personal accounts the Irish Parenting Bloggers have been sharing this week, one thing has stood out in my mind: the lack of support they’ve suffered from many of the health professionals involved in their babies’ births. But associated with that is the way several of those mothers found it hard to speak up when faced with terrible treatment, because they didn’t want to be a bother to anyone, and because the nurses they encountered – mostly nurses, it seems – made them feel that they were causing trouble. Causing trouble by asking for pain medication. By asking for help with latching the baby on. By asking to have their crying baby picked up and given to them after a c-section.
I understand this mentality, I really do. I don’t like bothering people. If I’m a patient, I want to be a model patient. I want to be the one who is no trouble. (Look how proud I was of actually asking questions, way back in my first pregnancy.) I want to get the answers right, so that the doctor/nurse/professional I’m talking to approves of me and decides I’m a nice girl.
What the hell? Who worries about being a nice girl when she’s having a baby – which is pretty hard and important work, ya know? Well, apparently I do, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Did my mother make me this way? Was it mentally beaten into me, and into her, and her mother before her, that good girls didn’t make trouble? I would go so far as to say that, though of course there are people of every level of assertiveness all over the world, in Ireland we perhaps have more non-assertive people/women than in other countries.
Perhaps we even like the martyrdom, just a tiny bit. It feels good for your soul, doesn’t it? Hedonism is definitely bad, so putting up with hardship and not whining about it must be good, right? Oh dear, this is getting awfully Catholic.
Whatever – my pop psychology is based on no actual research. But the fact stands that given the vulnerable situation of a mother at the exact time when breastfeeding begins, in the midst of pain and unfamiliarity and at the mercy of the “professionals,” the Irish tendency to “offer it up” works against many people.
Maybe, just maybe, this aspect of the Irish national psyche has something to do with the low rates of breastfeeding. Maybe many mothers who really wanted to try to breastfeed were sabotaged not just by the system but by their own innate disinclination to speak up for themselves, because they didn’t want to make trouble.
(A doula is really helpful here. One major job of a doula is to advocate for her client when her client is in a vulnerable and unfamiliar state. A doula knows what’s going on and how the system works, as well as what the mother wants. If you are pregnant in Ireland, I would strongly advise you to look into getting a doula.)
The thing is, I know that every single mama can and will advocate for her child. Every mama, Irish or otherwise, is a mother bear, a lioness, a spitting, snarling tiger mother if you threaten her child, or fail to help her child, or let her child be in pain.
So I would say to you, expectant mothers of Ireland who are planning to breastfeed (and anywhere else they like to breed nice girls): find that righteous anger, access your deep but vast recesses of self-assurance RIGHT NOW. Use it for yourself right at the start of your child’s life, to ensure that you get what you need to begin breastfeeding the way you wanted to, the way you know will work best because you’ve done the research even if the person talking to you has not. Advocate for your baby. Because breastfeeding isn’t just about us, it’s about our children.
This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to get to the root of the Irish breastfeeding problem. This is what I wrote four years ago.
** Source: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard.htm#Indicators