Just over half of mothers currently initiate breastfeeding in Ireland compared with 81 per cent in the UK and in the region of 98 per cent in Nordic states such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark.What's going on? Are Irish maternity practices that different from those of the UK? (Yes, I think they are.) But according to the finding cited later, that after a month, "women who gave birth in hospitals where there is a particular breastfeeding culture are no more likely to breastfeed than other women," that's not really where the problem lies.*
I think it's entirely about peer pressure. You do what your friends do. You don't want to be the weird one. You assume that what's "normal" is the most "right". The Irish psyche is also deeply suspicious of things that authority figures tell us to do. We're a lot more likely to listen to our friends than the experts or the media, at least when it comes to deciding how we're going to behave. We have a healthy scorn for experts.
In the comments on that article, several people mentioned that Irish mothers want to get back to the pub. They don't want to be tied to an infant, and they don't want to have to moderate their alcohol intake for an indefinite length of time. The idea of six more months without a pint or a (good) few glasses of red, after a whole nine months of self-denial already, is horrendous to your average Irish mother. Is that really true? Is it because the Irish doctors take the more USA-ian approach of no alcohol at all while pregnant or nursing rather than a Continental attitude of a little is fine? Or do Irish doctors know that "a little" is not an option once an Irishwoman goes out drinking?
On balance, I'd like to think this isn't true. The Scandinavian nations where breastfeeding rates are highest are not exactly known for their abstinence from hard liquor. The Swedes party hard, I'm told. But they are probably able to exercise a modicum of self-control too, and I imagine if the breastfeeding culture in Ireland was more like that in Sweden, Irish mothers would find that they could, let's see
- have one drink and stop
- have a few drinks once in a while and offer formula that evening instead
- pump enough to have a backup stash in the fridge for the babysitter to offer while you're out on the batter, and for you to give while you're still a little worse for wear once you get home
- discover that it's no fun trying to care for an infant when you have a hangover, and realise that moderation might be a good thing
Yes, yes, there are many people who really really wanted to breastfeed, and it didn't work out. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the almost 50% who decided beforehand that they weren't even going to think about it, because it's weird. Or because it's not what anyone they know does.
If nobody ever does, then nobody ever will. Simple as that. Are we all sheep, Irishwomen? I'd like to think not. Don't just do what your friends are doing. Find out for yourself. Remember, in the immortal words of L'Oreal, you're worth it. And so is your baby.
Mind the Baby has some words to say about the week here. Coincidentally, since she talks about the PR campaign, my own post linked at the top of the page described my imaginary advertising campaign aimed at the Irish market. Perhaps we should add one that just says, "Why breastfeed? So your friends will too." Maybe it's just that simple.
*Although higher rates of intervention are statistically linked with lower rates of initiating breastfeeding, so it does have something to do with it.