This group of mothers wanted their story told and asked me for help.
They want to show health professionals in Ireland that:
It’s possible to breastfeed babies and children with Down Syndrome.
A few statistics on breastfeeding in Ireland:
“Current exclusive breastfeeding rates in Ireland on discharge from maternity hospital are 46.3%. (Sourced: Breastfeeding in a Healthy Ireland HSE, 2016)
15% of children in Ireland are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months compared with the global average of 38% and WHO European average of 25% (Sourced: WHO World Health Statistics 2013 and WHO European 2013).
The antenatal and postnatal breastfeeding support for new mothers in Irish maternity hospitals is not sufficient and support often depends on the health professional mothers talk to. Yet, it’s so important to get the right support in the early hours and days after a baby is born, and if possible, before baby is born. This is true when mother and baby are perfectly healthy and/or already motivated to breastfeed.
Now, imagine a health professional telling a pregnant mother:
“I’ve never heard of a success breastfeeding story involving a baby with Down Syndrome.”
You’d have to be pretty strong and motivated to keep trusting yourself and your baby to look for more support and success stories.
This is exactly what those mothers did and they found it really hard at times.
They all have, in some degrees, met with medical professionals who didn’t fully believe breastfeeding a child with Down Syndrome could be successful.
While breastfeeding may be challenging at times, these mothers want new mothers to know they’re not alone. They’re not crazy for wanting to breastfeed their baby too. These mothers want to share their success stories, so I photographed them in 2017 during National Breastfeeding Week.
For many babies with Down Syndrome, the breastfeeding journey is straightforward once the mother gets support in learning breastfeeding positions to help baby have a stronger latch and suckle.
Many other babies have a bumpier road with time in NICU and/or surgeries to contend with. For a lot of these mothers, breastfeeding (or pumping and feeding breastmilk) helps them keep some control over the situation and feel like they’re doing something for their baby when they can’t hold them in their arms.
Ciara’s breastfeeding journey with Réiltín (the little girl with the pink dress), for example, involved open-heart surgeries, long stays in the hospital and pumping around the clock.
To some people, it might seem as a huge sacrifice and too much pressure for the mother to put herself under. To them, it’s the most precious and natural thing in the world… and so much more than just feeding.
I was so honoured they asked me to help spread the word to the medical profession in Ireland, but also to other parents and future parents of babies with Down Syndrome.
“We Can Too” is their message. Here’s their Facebook community page.
While they knew what they wanted to say, they trusted me with the style of photography that would be best suited. They’d seen a beautiful photo session done on a beach for the same purposes. While the idea seemed great, it would have turned out differently on an Irish beach in October, on the only day everyone was available! When I suggested a casual meet-up in a comfy coffee shop in Dublin, where everyone could wear what they wanted and breastfeed their little one when they needed to, I had 100% happy mums!
Before and in-between taking photos, I listened to them share their experiences. While they have a lot in common, each one of their stories is unique.
There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about them breastfeeding their babies. Nature at its best. Babies and toddlers nursing, crawling under the tables and giving me the warmest of smiles.
If you’re a photographer looking to give back with your photography, while still staying true to your style, it’s possible!
Writing and photographs contributed by Johanna King.
About Johanna King: I am originally from France but have been calling Ireland my “home“ for almost 10 years. I’ve been photographing families and weddings professionally since 2014 and have to thank Fearless & Framed for showing me that it was ok (and even great!!) to stop posing people and embrace documentary photography. My dream clients are now booking me and work doesn’t feel like work! Website // Instagram // Facebook