The benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby are enormous. Breast milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs for growth and development, it contains anti-bodies which can help your baby's immune system and it assists the emotional well-being of both mother and baby.
Practically all mothers can breastfeed but it does take dedication and commitment. You are more likely to succeed if you have support and all the information you need. You will need to balance the baby's demands for milk with your supply. This can take time, as does getting the feeding position right and feeling comfortable with it.
You may find the first couple of weeks of breastfeeding uncomfortable and very tiring, until your supply settles down and the baby learns how to feed well, but as you gain in confidence, you become more relaxed. By the time your baby is a couple of months old, you will be quite an expert. The HSE has useful guides on breastfeeding at healthpromotion.ie.
Breastfeeding and employment
Under Section 9 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 certain women in employment who are breastfeeding are entitled to take time off work each day in order to breastfeed. The provision applies to all women in employment who have given birth within the previous 6 months. Employers are not obliged to provide facilities in the workplace to facilitate breastfeeding if the provision of such facilities would give rise to considerable costs. At the choice of her employer, the woman may therefore opt to:
- Breastfeed in the workplace or express breast milk, where facilities are provided in the workplace by the employer
- Have their working hours reduced (without loss of pay) to facilitate breastfeeding where facilities are not made available.
Women who are in employment and are breastfeeding are entitled to take 1 hour (with pay) off work each day as a breastfeeding break. This time may be taken as;
- One 60 minute break
- Two 30 minute breaks
- Three 20 minute breaks
You should note, that breaks may be longer and more frequent if agreed between the woman and her employer. Part-time workers are also entitled to breastfeeding breaks, calculated on a pro-rata basis.
The provision for women to breastfeed at work was brought into effect on the 18th October, 2004 through SI 654 of 2004 Maternity Protection (Protection of Mothers who are Breastfeeding) Regulations 2004.
The HSE have produced a useful guide for employers, employees and co-workers entitled Breastfeeding and Work (pdf).
Women that wish to exercise their rights to breastfeed in employment, must notify their employer (in writing) of their intention to breastfeed at work. You must confirm this information at least 4 weeks before the date you intend to return to employment from maternity leave.
Employers can require the employee to supply the child’s birth certificate (or some other document confirming the child’s date of birth).
If you find breastfeeding difficult, there are many people who can help and reassure you:
- At the hospital or at home. The midwife will have had much experience with breastfeeding mothers and will be able to help you get started. Some are "lactation consultants" and have specific training in breastfeeding support. In addition, most hospitals run a weekly drop-in breastfeeding clinic.
- At the local health centre. Breastfeeding support groups are run by the public health nurse. Meetings take place weekly, where you and other mothers can meet the nurse to discuss any problems you might have and to seek her advice.
- Breastfeeding counsellors. Cuidiu - The Irish Childbirth Trust has a list of trained breastfeeding counsellors who will answer any queries you might have. They are available all over the country. Contact Cuidiu for the name of your nearest counsellor. In addition, the La Leche League is a voluntary group which provides information and support to women who want to breastfeed their babies. Their services include telephone counselling and monthly group meetings. A list of La Leche League counsellors is provided in the telephone book under "La Leche League" - telephone the counsellor nearest you.
- Breastfeeding support groups. Both Cuidiu and La Leche League organise breastfeeding support groups. Contact them for the number of your nearest group. Information on La Leche groups in your area is available here.
Most breastfeeding support services are available free of charge although Cuidiu and the La Leche League charge a small annual membership fee.
The Health Service Executive have produced a national breastfeeding website, full of advice, tips and information for parents.
Information on breasfeeding support options and contacts is available at www.friendsofbreastfeeding.ie.
Questions in relation to the protection of mothers who are breastfeeding in employment should be addressed to the Workplace Relations Customer Services as follows:
Both Cuidiu and the La Leche League publish a range of material on breastfeeding. You can read La Leche League leaflets here.