BEFORE Covid-19 suspended normal life, Jane O’Regan helped organise Cuidiu Cork’s weekly coffee mornings and meetings for parents, carers and their children all over Cork city and suburbs.
She is an active volunteer on the national committee of Cuidiu, which coordinates the parenting charities’ activities throughout the country.
Providing breastfeeding support is a big part of Cuidiu’s work and there are 25 trained volunteer breastfeeding counsellors in Cork who offer breastfeeding support to families on a daily basis.
“Our face-to-face meet ups and support groups have been suspended since March, but we are continuing to offer phone support and are now running weekly virtual breastfeeding support groups every Wednesday morning and virtual breastfeeding preparation classes every month,” says O’Regan.
The theme for this year’s National Breastfeeding Week is ‘Breastfeeding in a time of Covid’ and there is widespread recognition that now is a particular difficult time to bring a baby into the world with the restrictions on partners in hospitals and with curtailment of antenatal and post-natal supports.
Liz Griffin’s daughter was born during lockdown and the early weeks of breastfeeding were challenging.
“We really struggled at the start but Jane was a great supporter and helped me with hiring Cuidiu’s breast pumps while we worked through the problems of tongue tie and low supply.
“I would have been lost without Cuidiu and the online support. Fern’s six months now and we’re flying at breastfeeding! But it has been a hard time to have a baby,” says Ms Griffin.
Attendance at Cuidiu Cork’s virtual meetings has been very consistent, with mothers logging in from the comfort of their beds with their newborns snuggled on their chest, and mothers from outside Cork availing of the free service too.
“Who knows when we’ll be able to have face-to-face support groups again, but we may actually retain these virtual meetings in some form because they are very convenient for mothers, particularly in the early days and weeks, when getting out of the house is a massive undertaking.
“These virtual meets serve such a wide range of needs — from addressing specific breastfeeding problems to the social aspect and comfort of hearing someone else going through a similar experience to you,” says O’Regan.
Peer-to-peer support and access to good, evidence-based information are important to help improve our breastfeeding culture.
“Sometimes, mothers just need reassurance about what is normal newborn behaviour — frequent feeding and waking is normal! Or they need suggestions about how to improve latch and positioning or heal sore nipples.
“And then, sometimes mothers have more complex issues that needs the input of a lactation specialist and then we recommend they talk to a lactation consultant”
However, accessing a lactation consultant is not always easy, the maternity hospital and community lactation consultants can be very busy and not everyone has the means to pay for a private lactation consultant or a tongue tie release, if that is deemed to be the reason for breastfeeding difficulties.
Cuidiu Cork’s next online monthly breastfeeding preparation class is on Thursday, October 8, tomorrow, marking the end of National Breastfeeding Week.
Elsewhere around the country, webinars, virtual breastfeeding conferences and awareness campaigns were held to discuss how best to improve breastfeeding rates in Ireland and to highlight Irish research in this area.
Some politicians received copies of Gabrielle Palmer’s seminal book Why the Politics of Breastfeeding Matter as part of a campaign by advocacy group Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland to highlight that women and babies need to be supported and protected in their infant feeding choices — and to encourage leading figures in public life to advocate for Irish families in this regard.
President Michael D Higgins accepted his copy of the book from a BFLGI member in Áras an Uachtarán last week and Social Democrats Leader, Róisín Shortall also accepted her copy in person. The book explains how infant feeding is one of the most important global public health issues of our time, and describes how big business can influence feeding choice, health and the intimate relationship between mothers and babies.
In the Dáil last week. Eamon Ryan branded Ireland’s breastfeeding rates as a “shocking disgrace”.
“Budget 2021 is approaching and Covid-19 has made us all aware of the importance of strong public health. The importance of breastfeeding for public health is indisputable. With proper investment the government will save money in the long term” says BFLGI Co-Chair Malvina Walsh.
BFLGI is asking the government to focus on three key areas to support and protect breastfeeding. Firstly, to fully fund and implement the HSE Breastfeeding Action Plan, 2016-2021. This includes some key actions such as raising the breastfeeding rates by 2% each year. Secondly, to implement legislation for the full adoption of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. Commonly known as the ‘WHO Code’ it is a set of recommendations for WHO’s Member States to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. Thirdly, introduce lactation workplace rights as per the Department of Justice’s National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017- 2020.
“Countries like Norway that have high breastfeeding rates also have maternity leave and lactation workplace rights that recognise the value in supporting breastfeeding. Extending maternity leave and introducing lactation breaks at work would help mothers continue to breastfeed for as long as they want to” says Ms. Walsh
Sometimes, mothers just need resassurance about what is normal newborn behaviour... Or they need suggestions about how to improve latch and positioning or heal sore nipples.