By Joyce Rubotham @
Ireland is still a country heavily influenced by a Catholic heritage – and society’s view of a woman’s body is reflected in a nation still steeped in religion and uncomfortable with the most natural role of a mother – breastfeeding.
The Equal Status Act of 2000 prohibits any discrimination against the breastfeeding mother in public places. But public opinion is not as up to date as public policy.
Department stores and shopping centres often feel the need to provide breastfeeding rooms. Why not encourage mums to feed in the café or public areas?
The best promotion of breastfeeding is the normalisation of this natural act. It doesn’t need a special room next to the toilets.
The nursing mum should not be relegated to the bathroom. Breastfeeding is clean and healthy and natural.
Another interesting phenomenon is what I call the “breastfeeding burqa” A cloth apparatus, akin to a bib. A wire hoop goes over the head of the breastfeeding Mother’s neck, covering her entire torso and baby.
The cover-up mentality really is an obstacle to the normalisation of breastfeeding. We have become so afraid of seeing some flesh that breastfeeding women feel they need to cover themselves.
Remember when smoking inside a restaurant was normal? Call it a social revolution but now smokers seem to self-regulate with smoking indoors anywhere being almost unthinkable.
The new social faux-pas of not smoking indoors has the effect of making smoking unseen to many children. The result is a whole generation who don’t see smoking as a natural part of socialising.
My children often remark when they see a smoker because it stands out to them. It’s not normal because they don’t see it every time we go out to a café, restaurant or shopping centre.
The same logic applies to breastfeeding. Well-intentioned signs urging breastfeeding Mums to ask for a quiet room to nurse, do more harm than good.
The smoking ban illustrates how Irish society is capable of change in a short period of time, especially with health-related etiquette. We can be so proud of our country where we adjusted so well to the idea of smokers leaving the table to go outside for a cigarette. Why? Because it’s better for our health.
Let’s try to encourage mums to feed at the table in cafes, lets draw them out of the special areas and into the mainstream. This too is an adjustment which will improve the health of our society.
Breastfeeding; the Facts
The science is clear. Breast milk is healthy food for a baby and cannot be replaced by an equal. Formula milk is an inferior substitute though at times it is a necessity.
Breast milk is the natural food of the human infant. It is also free while a great deal of promotion and advertising is used to sell an inferior product to people who have a healthier alternative available at no cost.
If bottled spring water was free, would you pay to drink tap water?
According to the Lancet, the lives of 823,000 children under five could be saved by universal breastfeeding. That’s over 800,000 children every year, saved. Universal breastfeeding would also save an estimated 20,000 women annually from dying of breast cancer.
Limited access to clean water and sterilisation facilities are what make bottle feeding so dangerous for infants in developing countries.
According to the World Health Organisation obesity and overweight is now the most common childhood disorder in Europe. In total, 22% of Irish children between the ages of 5-12 years are overweight or obese.
Multiple studies in developed countries like Ireland consistently demonstrate that breastfeeding protects against childhood obesity. In one study infants who were breasted for just four months had reduced rates of childhood obesity at two and four years of age.
Breastfed infants have reduced risk of developing both type I and II diabetes. The growing number of children diagnosed in Ireland every year with diabetes is alarming and is on the rise. Breastfeeding can help in the fight against this metabolic disorder.
The latest Growing up in Ireland study carried out by the ESRI indicated that a startling 6% of Irish babies are exclusively breastfed at six months. With so much money and time promoting infant formula, it’s no surprise that for Irish mothers, the alternative to bottle feeding has become “alternative”.
The life-saving and health benefits of breastfeeding are not restricted to populations of developing countries. We need to change our language and our approach to this practice.
It’s not the benefits of breastfeeding that need highlighting We need to start reflecting upon the risks of not breastfeeding.
I have referenced my information from the below resources:
- 2016 Jan 30;387(10017):475-90.
- World Health Organisation. 2003 Fact sheet on Obesity and Overweight.
- Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance 2006 National Children’s Food Survey www.iuna.net
- World Health Organisation. Evidence on the long-term effects of breastfeeding: systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PDF). Geneva, Switzerland: ISBN978-92-4-159523-0.
- Evid Rep Technol Assess. April 2007. (Full Rep) (153): 1–186, “Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries”.
- Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2014. 18 (5): 1224–1232. “Early childhood healthy and obese weight status: Potentially protective benefits of breastfeeding and delaying solid foods.”.