Breastfeeding each of my babies was totally different, says Cork's former Olympian Derval O'Rourke

Former Olympian Derval O'Rourke opens up about her breastfeeding journey with both of her children to mark World Breastfeeding Week, writes Irene Halpin Long
Breastfeeding each of my babies was totally different, says Cork's former Olympian Derval O'Rourke
Derval O'Rourke breastfeeding her son Archie. She has spoken about her breastfeeding experiences to mark World Breastfeeding Week.

FORMER world champion athlete and three time Olympian, Derval O’ Rourke, is mum to four-year-old Dafne and five-month-old Archie.

As well as being a proud mum, she runs her own business, Derval.ie, where she concentrates on sharing tips relating to food, fitness and wellbeing to help others live full and healthy lives.

Before Derval’s first child, Dafne, was born, she researched the benefits of breastfeeding.

Derval was “open to it [breastfeeding] but I didn’t put myself under any pressure to breastfeed.”

She took advantage of the expertise and advice offered by the midwives and lactation consultants at the Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH).

She attended a breastfeeding class at the maternity hospital on the morning after Dafne’s birth and was reassured by the level of support offered to new mums.

In the first six weeks of Dafne’s life, Derval visited the CUMH to avail of the support offered by the lactation consultants and midwives. She says: “Like all first time mums, there were things I was nervous and worried about. I kept in constant contact with the support team at the CUMH.”

Breastfeeding Dafne was “straight-forward and easy,” she says. Her daughter latched well and Derval was “delighted” that she could breastfeed her until she was six months old.

Because of the positive experience that she had, she was adamant she wanted to breastfeed again when she found out she was pregnant for a second time.

She says: “I felt that, for me, breastfeeding was a really good choice and a healthy choice.”

Derval O'Rourke with baby Archie.
Derval O'Rourke with baby Archie.

Her son Archie was born and Derval endeavoured to breastfeed him.

But doing so with Archie was “a completely different ball game” compared to breastfeeding Dafne. Archie struggled to latch on.

Derval says: “In the first few days, he was latched on all the time, but he was still upset and distressed. I assumed that my second baby would be like my first baby. Archie was entirely different.”

Derval asked the lactation consultants at the CUMH for advice.

“There were lots of small issues that needed to be addressed. He didn’t latch well. I had problems feeding him on one side. There was a question as to whether or not he was tongue tied.”

The lactation consultants at the CUMH listened to Derval’s experiences and concerns and helped her to put a plan in place because she wanted to try to continue breastfeeding Archie.

“The consultants at the CUMH devised a plan for me. For seven to ten days, I pumped every three to four hours and fed him my milk from a bottle and he drank that. It really wasn’t easy. If he had been my first baby, I would have struggled to continue.

“But I knew once I got through the difficult patch that there would be so many positives to breastfeeding him. I thought that if I could get to the six-week mark, things would get better.”

Derval admits that “the first six weeks with Archie were really tough”. She was worried because he had lost weight by the time he had reached ten days old.

Archie’s weight soon stabilised once Derval followed the plan set by the lactation consultant.

“We spent the next two to three weeks trying to get Archie to latch on correctly. All the while, I was pumping and giving him my breastmilk by bottle.

“Once we hit the six-week point, he started to latch on properly. The bottles were nearly gone. His weight was stable. Once we hit that point, things became easier and much more straightforward.

“Now, at five months old, Archie is a great feeder and a very happy baby boy.”

Derval experienced a rollercoaster of emotions when her initial attempts at breastfeeding her son weren’t working.

Derval O'Rourke.
Derval O'Rourke.

“When feeding wasn’t working out with Archie, I realised that what I deemed to be the most natural thing in the world seemed unnatural. I felt at times that I wasn’t doing well enough for him to ensure his weight was adequate and that he would be a content and happy baby. That upset me.”

Availing of the support services at the CUMH helped Derval process these feelings. She feels “very fortunate” that she could access the expertise and support provided at the CUMH.

She says: “When your baby is very small, you forget about yourself because you are focused on your baby’s health and wellbeing. The staff at the CUMH reminded me that as a mum, you have to look after yourself. A happy mum means a happy baby.

“The first few weeks with Archie were not easy. I wasn’t happy a lot of the time because I was worried about him.”

A range of breastfeeding services are offered at the CUMH to pregnant women and new mums. A three-hour antenatal breastfeeding class is available to expectant mums and partners, which discusses the importance of breastfeeding, safe sleep practises, safe skin to skin contact, correct positioning and attachment, and any aspect of breastfeeding that an expectant mum would like to address.

Once baby is born, staff in the birthing suite help and support new mums who want to breastfeed their babies. This support continues once mum and baby have returned home. Derval says; “Every Tuesday, there is a clinic you can attend with your baby. A lactation consultant sits with you and helps you with your breastfeeding issues.”

During the first few weeks of Archie’s life, Derval also availed of the phone support service offered at the CUMH.

“When you have a new baby, every day seems incredibly long. Things can change really quickly. It can be a long time between Tuesdays so the service has a phone line you can avail of. If you ring and leave a message, someone gets back to you really quickly.

“Just knowing that someone is at the end of the phone, to help and advise you is a great resource.

“Often, the solutions are quite simple but when you have just given birth to a baby and you are sleep-deprived, it’s hard to see the solutions yourself.”

As well as using the breastfeeding support at the CUMH, Derval stresses the importance of having a strong support network at home when breastfeeding.

“My husband was fully aware of how important it was for me to breastfeed. At no point did he suggest any alternative because he knew that would have upset me. If anyone was going to come up with an alternative, it would have to have been me. My mother and mother-in-law were completely on board with my decision and were very supportive. That really helped.”

Derval O'Rourke.
Derval O'Rourke.

Breastfeeding Archie has many advantages and benefits.

“Breastfeeding is a lovely bonding experience,” says Derval.

“One of the best things about it is that you can feed your baby anywhere. Archie came filming Ireland’s Fittest Family with me. For the first two episodes, I was primarily feeding him myself. I didn’t want to have to bring bottles with me for those two days. I brought him with me and my mum came as well. In between takes, I’d feed him and then run to the next piece of filming. It was brilliant to be able to do that.

“I find breastfeeding Archie is so much quicker. I don’t need to sterilise bottles. If he wakes in the middle of the night, it’s easy to feed him. It’s very convenient.

“It’s also a source of comfort for baby when they are latched on. It settles them like nothing else.”

Derval offers the following advice to new and expectant mums:

“Whether you want to breastfeed or not, be totally open-minded and give it a go. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Make sure you tap into the support that is there. Support is key.

“Hopefully, most women will have a good experience and breastfeeding won’t be difficult but there can be problems so stay open-minded, give it a go and make sure you get plenty of support.”

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