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 antibodies 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.
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 (26 weeks). 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 your employer, you may:
- Breastfeed in the workplace or express breast milk, where facilities are provided in the workplace by the employer. Expressing milk means removing milk from your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later.
- Have your 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 for up to 26 weeks after birth. This time may be taken as;
- One 60 minute break
- Two 30 minute breaks
- Three 20 minute breaks
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. After 26 weeks, there is currently no legal entitlement to breastfeeding breaks. Some workplaces have policies which support employees to continue to breastfeed.
If you want to continue to breastfeed when you return to work, you must notify your employer (in writing) of your intention to breastfeed at work. You must confirm this information at least 4 weeks before the date you intend to return to employment from your maternity leave. Employers can require you 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 advice.
- Breastfeeding counsellors. Cuidiú has a list of trained breastfeeding counsellors who will answer any queries you might have. They are available all over the country. Contact Cuidiú for the name of your nearest counsellor. In addition, La Leche League of Ireland 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.
- Breastfeeding support groups. Both Cuidiú and La Leche League of Ireland organise breastfeeding support groups and coffee mornings.
Most breastfeeding support services are free of charge although Cuidiú and
La Leche League charge a small annual membership fee.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) website breastfeeding.ie has information for anyone planning to breastfeed. It has advice, tips and information for parents interested in breastfeeding and details of support groups throughout the country.
The HSE also has useful guides and posters on breastfeeding at healthpromotion.ie.