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10th May 2017

Yes, I breastfed my child at work but I’m not going to say it was easy

Alison Bough

Yesterday, Australian Senator Larissa Waters became the first politician to breastfeed in her country’s federal parliament.

The politician has been lauded for her actions (and rightly so) but I wonder how long it will be before we see similar openness in our own country? I won’t hold my breath.

Despite the fact that breastfeeding rates in Ireland have risen over the last number of years, we still have one of the lowest rates in the EU. The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months; currently only 6% of Irish mothers do so.

I exclusively breastfed all three of my children until they were a year old. I’m not looking for a medal. I found it difficult, I had many moments when I desperately wanted my life back. I experienced painful mastitis with my first baby. My second child ended up being a 10lb 1oz whopper (and C-section delivery) who I was told not to lift in order to feed him. My daughter was hospitalised for over a month when she was six weeks old and I didn’t feel supported as breastfeeding mum even in a children’s hospital. But I persisted. I also believe that my breastmilk was – at least partially – responsible for saving my daughter’s life during a critical illness.

As a mum who was self-employed, or contracting, for the majority of my maternity ‘leave’ (which doesn’t actually exist for self-employed mothers), I had to work. Sometimes, I had to stick on some heavy-duty breast pads and pray that I wouldn’t leak through my shirt during a meeting. Other times, I had to bring my baby with me. Because I was the food. Non-negotiable. So I did, but it wasn’t always a comfortable experience.

This is a photograph of my weeks-old daughter. Sleeping in the corner of a boardroom…

I’m going to call a spade a spade here: breastfeeding during a board meeting is not all it’s cracked up to be. Despite the fact that I carried on regardless, as did Larissa Waters and Icelandic politician Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir, some people around me were clearly uncomfortable. The young lad bringing coffee in to the boardroom nearly spilled half the Nescafe on himself when he clocked what was happening.

I ended up having to keep my suit jacket on in a sweltering room because I was covered in something resembling curdled ricotta cheese underneath it. But I fed my daughter and felt I’d had a small win for every breastfeeding mother who’s ever been ushered “somewhere a little more private” or offered a grimy toilet cubicle.

Yes, let’s applaud Ms Waters but let’s not pretend it’s an easy path to take – at least not on this Island. Perhaps our low breastfeeding rates are representative of how our society really reacts when you unfasten your feeding bra while discussing an excel spreadsheet. Perhaps the rates represent the fear many women feel even considering doing that. I don’t know.

All I know is that I felt the fear and did it anyway. And I don’t regret a single awkward moment of it.

Did you breastfeed at work? Let us know in the Facebook comments or join the conversation on Twitter @HerFamilydotie