Laura Dowling, known as The Fabulous Pharmacist online, talks about her experience of trying to breastfeed her children while working.
I come from a family of breastfeeders so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to breastfeed my babies. My Mum is a midwife and always spoke about breastfeeding in such a positive way. My aunties and cousins breastfed so I witnessed it growing up.
My Mum got very sick shortly after the birth of my youngest brother (her fourth child) and was in hospital for a number of weeks. I was ten years old at the time and I remember how utterly devastated she was to be unable to breastfeed her little baby. My heart still aches at the memory of her crying in the hospital bed when Dad brought my baby brother in to see her. He is now a grown man of 6’5’’ but he is still her baby!
Roll on eighteen years and I had my own son to breastfeed. Oscar took to the boob like a duck to water. I remember the ward sister in Holles street popping her head into my little cubicle and asking how many children I had at home- I seemed like a pro!
While studying Pharmacy at Trinity College Dublin I learned so much about the physiological processes of the human body, its biochemistry and how drugs act on a molecular level within it. I have always been in awe of the functions of the body and the marvel of life but never more so than when I was pregnant and breastfeeding. To be able to grow your own baby, give birth and then keep him alive all by yourself seems nothing short of miraculous.
I loved every moment of breastfeeding and was determined to keep it up once I went back to work. I had a good ten months of maternity leave with my first two sons but had run out of money by the time I took maternity leave on my third so I had to go back to work when he was six months old.
With each of my babies, I muddled through those first few weeks of work. I think that I only pumped milk about once or twice on each baby because as a Pharmacist with no double cover, I am ‘on duty’ for the entire 9-10 hour shift and can only take a quick break if there are no patients or prescriptions.
My pharmacy is very small with only a small care room for privacy and I can hear all the shop floor conversations from it so it was not very conducive to the relaxed atmosphere that I needed to pump successfully!
I had a supply of frozen breastmilk that was used up quite quickly upon my return to work and once it was gone my babies just drank water and ate solids until I got home. They fed more at night and I was tired but it only lasted a short time before my boobs and my baby got used to it.
On Saturdays, their Dad would bring them down to me for a cheeky feed and cuddle in the middle of the day. The sight of their little legs kicking with excitement in the buggy when they saw me is burnt into my memory for all time! On the days that I was off (I worked a four-day week), I just breastfed them more.
They evolve and change so quickly that before I knew it, they were twenty months and I was still breastfeeding them! I do believe that being able to breastfeed them for so long helped to keep them from succumbing to at least some of the creche illnesses (but we still got our fair share of sniffles and the odd vomiting bug). It certainly made my return to work easier as I had all the night time snuggles.
They are now 11, 8 and 6 years old and those days seem like another era. I feel very lucky to have had the support and to have been able to breastfeed for so long. I know that a lot of women struggle to breastfeed. Women need more support from the get-go. From family, friends, employers, the healthcare system and society in general. This would involve pumping (excuse the pun!) more money and resources into maternity hospitals, public health centres and education.
We need more midwives and lactation consultants on hand to help new mums, especially once discharged from hospital. We need breastfeeding to be part of sex ed in schools, primary as well as secondary, so breastfeeding is normalised from an early age. And we need to be able to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding to mums and babies, in the short as well as long term, without worrying about offending or upsetting mums who don’t breastfeed.