A mother of two has described the beginning of her breastfeeding journey as a “traumatic” experience which severely knocked her confidence as a parent.
lisabeth O’Brien (34) and her husband Dáithí have two daughters, Evie, who is two-and-a-half years old, and Fiadh, who is three months.
The Wicklow woman, who now lives in Dublin, always planned to breastfeed her children but found it to be a “painful” experience for the first few days of her daughter Evie’s life.
“My experience with Evie was very difficult. She was born in February 2020 about six weeks before the lockdown and I think a lot of people feel breastfeeding is one of the most natural things you can do, and you don’t expect it to be hard work, but right from the get-go I had difficulties with Evie,” she said.
“I couldn’t get her to breastfeed, and I was straight away asked what formula did I want to give her, and I hadn’t even considered formula as an option, I just presumed breastfeeding would work.”
Ms O’Brien added that she felt “desperate” and that “I was failing my baby”.
“I felt like my baby was starving because I wasn’t able to breastfeed her. I was kept in hospital for much longer than necessary, I didn’t sleep for 72 hours, and I was in a very vulnerable position – as every mum is after they give birth.
“All of a sudden, you have this tiny baby to look after and you’re desperate to do right by it. I was made feel like breastfeeding just wasn’t going to work for me and that formula was my only option.
“It was a really painful 72 hours, and it was only because I had a mum who was a healthcare professional and had connections that I was able to see a lactation consultant, and once I did, which was on day five, she fixed it straight away and I breastfed Evie for 16 months without any issues.”
Ms O’Brien opened up about her struggles as World Breastfeeding Week is marked this week.
Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world with just 49pc of infants being exclusively breastfed after leaving hospital, according to Unicef.
Ms O’Brien said this experience really “knocked” her confidence as a mother.
Ahead of the birth of her second daughter, she sought the help of breastfeeding support groups which she found very helpful.
“The staff were so under-resourced and stressed, the midwives just didn’t have the time to sit with us and give us the options. It was a really traumatic 72 hours,” she said.
“When I was due to give birth to Fiadh, I was terrified of that postnatal ward, so I just tried to prepare myself as much as possible and through having Evie, I joined a lot of different groups with breastfeeding mums, and I learned so much. So, I was so much more prepared, and I knew what to expect … breastfeeding with Fiadh is going really well, and I feel confident in it.”
Ms O’Brien feels there is a lack of education and training in Ireland to help first-time mothers prepare for the challenges breastfeeding poses.
“Forming connections before you give birth and looking at voluntary groups is hugely beneficial,” she said, adding “you have a support group and you know where to go if you’re having issues.”