“I love the breastfeeding revolution that is going on right now!”
First time mum Liz Rutledge only embarked on her breastfeeding journey 11 weeks ago. But already she has conquered so much.
To see her breastfeeding in public now, you would have no idea of the obstacles she and newborn daughter, Tessa, encountered before feeding was properly established.
That is why she, and many more mums like her, see the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) new awareness campaign as another positive step towards greater acceptance of breastfeeding in public.
The campaign aims to encourage mums to feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public.
Northern Ireland has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the UK, so while the #NotSorryMums campaign aims to encourage women to breastfeed, it also highlights how mothers never have to apologise for feeding their baby in public.
“Feeding Tessa has been an amazing bonding experience,” says Liz from Derrylin, “But we got off to a rocky start.
“I took mastitis within a week and Tessa had tongue tie. It took 10 days before the antibiotics kicked in.
“I know I would have given up if it wasn’t for the fantastic support of my peer group.”
Liz attends the Enniskillen Breastfriends group, which meets every Thursday in The Cathedral Hall, Halls Lane for a friendly chat and specialist breastfeeding advice.
“Attending the group was the first time I really understood the importance and the necessity of peer support,” says Liz gratefully.
“The support I have received has been fantastic.
“It is just lovely to have somewhere to go on Thursday where you can spend time with like-minded mums, have a cup of tea and a bit of craic. We all have an underlying common ground and the camaraderie really helps to give you a boost.
“Groups like that are so important to continue to break down the barrier for every other woman who is going to be breastfeeding after us.”
Liz says she has found the greatest scepticism about breastfeeding her child has come from older women.
“I think for women who had babies in the 80s, there must have been a serious breakdown in the belief of breastfeeding. I have found that across the board with women of that generation. In the last 10 weeks I have had comments like: ‘Oh, you are crazy to be breastfeeding’, and it has come from that age group.”
And although she has not experienced any negative reaction towards her choice to breastfeed, she is aware of one woman who was asked to leave an Enniskillen premises for breastfeeding her baby.
“It shows that there are definitely still barriers to be broken down in order for breastfeeding to become ‘the norm’.
“For a woman not to be supported for naturally feeding her own child in a public place, that is not right.”
Fellow first time mum, Carla Prentice, is starting to ease back into work now that her daughter is approaching her first birthday.
“I am still breastfeeding Lydia, which I don’t see as a bad thing, so I am trying to phase back into work and my employer has been so accommodating and flexible. I’m sure it wasn’t like that years ago. I think there is an understanding that my daughter is my number one priority now.”
She too, feels that the most breastfeeding scepticism comes from an older generation of women.
“I think it comes from a generation that were told to bottle-feed,” she says, “And who were pushed back to work quite soon.
“But more and more people are realising that breastfeeding is a good thing.
“I am not against bottle feeding at all, but I think it should be each mum’s choice.
“I really struggled at the start to breastfeed. There were a lot of tears and I wanted to give up. But the support I received gave me the determination to keep going. I think that is important: encourage rather than discourage.”
Mum of three Clare Graham is a Peer Support volunteer locally.
Her son, one-year-old Ben, is still being breastfed despite Clare being back at work.
“People are getting better at asking for help,” she says, “That is the big difference. I have heard about a lot of places in say, Belfast, where mums have received dirty looks for feeding in public, or someone has said something to them. But I have never had any comments myself.
“In saying that, now that my son is older I am probably more aware of people looking at me if I am feeding in public, but it doesn’t bother me at all.
“I find places in Fermanagh very accommodating and I think there is far more acceptance of breastfeeding than before.I have had friends say to me, ‘Oh would you not just give a bottle’, but I do think acceptance is much better now, thanks to support and awareness campaigns.”