This week is National Breastfeeding Week and today, I met with a group of mothers in Foam Café in Dublin to take photographs.
The two things they have in common is breastfeeding their children with Down Syndrome and wanting to tell the world (or at least Ireland) that it can be done, even when they go through surgeries. They all have, in some degrees, met with medical professionals who didn’t fully believe breastfeeding a child with Down Syndrome could be successful, and while it might be challenging at times, it’s important to let new mothers know that they are not alone and that they are not crazy for wanting to breastfeed their baby.
For many babies with Down Syndrome, the breastfeeding journey is straightforward, once the mother gets support to learn breastfeeding positions that support the baby to have a stronger latch and suckle.
Many other babies have a bumpier road with time in NICU and/or surgeries to contend with. For a lot of these mothers, breastfeeding (or pumping and feeding breastmilk) helps them keep some control over the situation and feel like they are doing something for their baby when they can’t hold them in their arms.
To some people, it might seem as a huge sacrifice and too much pressure for the mother to put herself under, but to them, it is the most precious and natural thing in the world and so much more than just feeding.
Words from doctors and medical professional, in general, can have a very strong impact on us mothers, especially when things are difficult, when our hormones are a mess, when we are tired and unsure of doing the right thing. We trust them. When it comes to breastfeeding, the first few hours and days are so important, even with a healthy baby. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like when your baby has additional needs.
Yet, information on breastfeeding (among other things) can be so contradictory. This is why the mothers I met today asked me to help them spread the word to the medical profession in Ireland. They want future mothers of children with Down Syndrome to get the right information before and after birth from the people they trust the most.
Hearing “Yes you can” is important. Whether they will do it, how long they will do it for, and how (at the breast or pumping) will then depend on each mother and child.
So doctors, nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, paediatrician, dieticians and speech & language therapists, if you read this and would like to find out more, visit the newly created Facebook Community page ‘We Can Too – Breastfeeding and Down Syndrome’. An informative video will be released shortly and we will need all the help we can get to spread the word.
For mothers or expectant mothers, there is a wealth of knowledge, advice and support on the Facebook private group ‘Breastfeeding a Child with Extra Needs in Ireland‘.
The mothers behind this initiative are Sinead Travers, Ciara Reid, Ciara O’Hanlon, Rebecca Loughnane and Ruth Beddis.
Today at the café, I listened to them share their experiences and while they have a lot in common, each one of their stories is unique. There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about them breastfeeding their babies and this is what I tried to capture.
We chatted, we drank coffee, Caoimhe (16 months) walked on the table, Johnny (26 months) ran away to the stairs 1 000 000 times, Réiltín (almost 2) showed off her new hair band, Séana (20 months) mimicked me in the funniest way possible, Holly (14 months) would have loved to take one of the colourful lampshade with her. Everyone (siblings included) was crawling under the tables and gave me the warmest of smiles.
Sarah Jane, Brian, Hayley and Holly came all the way from Belfast for the occasion.
Christina was also there with Sarah, whom she breastfed many years ago for 11 months.
Thank you to Foam Café for supporting this initiative all the way. I already loved this place, but I’ll add it to the list of breastfeeding-friendly cafés in Dublin.