The rollercoaster that is breastfeeding

In the final part of her series new mum Michelle O’Connell shares her breastfeeding journey
The rollercoaster that is breastfeeding

The current breastfeeding rates in Ireland at about 50%, compared to 98% in Australia. Picture: Stock, posed by a model

ALTHOUGH physically and emotionally challenging, particularly in the early days, science has proven the extensive health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby.

However, with current breastfeeding rates in Ireland at about 50%, compared to 98% in Australia we still have a long way to go in terms of its promotion. This is largely due to the attitudes of generations before us, who viewed breastfeeding negatively; you breastfed if you couldn’t afford formula. It meant we lost the opportunity to learn how to breastfeed through observing our mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins before us.

Here are some things to remember if you’re considering the breastfeeding journey...

Remember the benefits

Sometimes, during those late night feeds, when your eyes are drooping and exhaustion has well and truly set in, it can be difficult to remember why you decided to take on this challenge in the first place. Remind yourself that apart from serving as a way to give nutrients to your little one, breastmilk also stimulates their immune system, protecting them from bacteria and viruses that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to fight. Substances such as lactoferrin, oligosaccharides and cytokines work together to defend your baby from infection. The longer baby is breastfed for, the longer the benefits last. It helps to prevent the onset of diabetes, asthma, diarrhoea, childhood cancer, and ear infections to name but a few.

Breastfeeding also serves as a wonderful way to comfort baby when tired or distressed. Couple this with the fact that it gets you back into shape faster, and helps to prevent postnatal depression, there are all the benefits you need!

Use the support

You may think that if you choose to breastfeed you’ll be shouldering all of the burden of having a new baby on your own, but if anything, you require even more support, in the early days at least.

Getting breastfeeding established is tough work. Breastfed babies tend to feed more often to build up your milk supply (12 or more times in 24 hours), and this can be very intense. There will be days on end when you actually won’t be able to leave the couch, not to mind the house, because your little one will decide to “cluster feed.” Recruit others to do the shopping, washing, cooking and cleaning, because I can guarantee you, your hands will be full!

Knowledge is power

For one of the most natural things in the world that you can do, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to attend a breastfeeding course in advance of baby’s birth, whether that’s at the hospital, privately or both. You shall leave feeling empowered, and confident that you are now in a position to give breastfeeding a proper go.

Most of the midwives in hospital offer great support and advice in those early days, and after heading home to fly solo, don’t be afraid to call upon a lactation consultant or perhaps a member of Cuidiu or La Leche League with any queries. Guaranteed they will have an answer to your question, as you won’t have been the first to ask it.

Family members can also be amazing sources of information.

Stock up on the essentials

One of the joys of breastfeeding is the lack of equipment required. No need for bottles or sterilizers.

However, there are some essentials that are worth stocking up on. For example, make sure that you have plenty of breast pads to hand; there will be leakage!

And although if baby is latching correctly your nipples shouldn’t crack, they do still require a bit of TLC in the beginning. Either nipple cream or compresses are very soothing, and really help with that initial sensitivity.

Although pumping is not advised in the early days unless medically indicated, the Haakaa breast pump is a handy little manual contraption that uses suction to collect a milk supply that can be stored in the fridge or freezer for use at times when you need to get away for a few hours.

Remove the pressure

All the handbooks describe the perfect scenario when it comes to the mother-baby breastfeeding relationship. But we all know that no aspect of life ever always goes to plan, and the same goes for breastfeeding.

There are so many factors that affect the successful establishment of breastfeeding, many of which we have no control over. A difficult birth that delays that first feed, medical conditions which limit the milk supply, tongue or lip ties that hinder baby’s latch, the list goes on.

Every woman’s journey is different, and with all the knowledge and the best will in the world, your plans to breastfeed may just not come to fruition.

Cut yourself some slack. Remind yourself that once baby is fed and you are both happy, at the end of the day nothing else matters.


Michelle began her healthcare career in 2012 as a community pharmacist, and has since expanded into pharmacy research and education. She holds a BPharm from UCC, an MPharm from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and a Professional Diploma in the Teaching of Mindfulness-Based Interventions from the Mindfulness Centre for Professional Training in Ireland. She has just completed a PhD in the area of wellness education, publishing her findings in academic journals, and presenting at international conferences. Originally from Innishannon and now living in Ballygarvan, Michelle has a particular passion for women’s health and wellbeing as a soon-to-be new mum. Her weekly column shall explore a variety of physical and mental health topics, supporting WOW readers in all aspects of health and wellness development.

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