Address by Sabina Higgins for ‘BreastIival 2021’
Sunday, 1 August 2021
It gives me the greatest pleasure to be with you all, mothers, babies, families and supporters, in this ‘Breastival’ celebration.
I thank Jennifer Hanratty and the organisation for your kind invitation.
It gives me the opportunity to say again how important it is to celebrate and promote breastfeeding.
It is the greatest gift any mother can give her child, and there is no greater gift that her family and friends can give to the baby, than to enjoy the privilege of being able to support both the breastfeeding mother and her baby. For the wider society it is important to support breastfeeding and to appreciate the great benefit breastfeeding gives to society in so many ways, health-wise for the citizens and economically to the country.
The United Nations World Health Organisation and UNICEF Children’s Care have done the world the great favour, by their research, of scientifically proving that “Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong nutrition, health and well-being. It reduces costs for families, health facilities and governments. Breastfeeding protects children from infections and saves lives. It supports emotional bonding between mothers and babies along with other mental health benefits”.
Why then are we in Ireland, in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, in such a pathetically low place as regards the percentage of our children being breastfed? We talk about biodiversity on the planet and of its wilfully being degraded to the point that, with the disaster of climate change and all that follows, we are now in danger of bringing about the extinction of life on the planet if we do not take urgent action to avert that calamity, and chart a better future. We human beings, as top of the chain of life, have in our personal preferences played no small role in insulting Mother Nature by ignoring her gift to us.
I said at the Breastfeeding webinar in the University of Galway last October:
“I find it very exciting the way that the beautiful term ‘human milk’ is referred to, and occurs in the work of so many of the speakers. It is so fundamental to our being. When one thinks of the millions of years of intelligence, and intuition and instinct, it took nature to evolve species that for the survival of their offspring reached a stage of mammal and eventually then human beings, that could carry their young inside their body, and then continue to feed it with milk once it was given birth to. How extraordinary then, that miracle of creation, that birth right of a baby to its mother’s milk should have been perversely thrown away. As it says in some poem ‘as if it were a careless trifle’.”
We need to recover what was lost. There needs to be a great public awareness campaign to bring to the understanding of people the vital importance of breastfeeding to the wellbeing of humanity.
We need a many-faceted campaign to dramatically increase the number of breastfeeding mothers. We need, as Breastival so well puts it, to “normalise breastfeeding”. We need the public education and cooperation of schools at all levels. We need the health services, at all level of the reproduction service, to be required, as part of their training, to know and value all about breastfeeding and be able to recommend, promote and guide its practice. I think this should be a compulsory requirement of the general practitioners profession, as she/he is maybe the first person a woman will have an appointment with.
The Departments of Health need to budget to advertise the importance of breastfeeding on the public broadcast services, in the media, in leaflets and booklets readily available and displayed publically in community outlets. The Maternity Services need to provide the number of midwives required to help at all stages of the pregnancy in preparation for birth and for as long after birth as is needed by an individual mother.
It is so irresponsible to leave the public awareness information neglected while the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes by commercial interests continues to undermine breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation Code – The International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes – designed to stop commercial corporations from damaging breastfeeding and endangering the health and nutrition of the world’s youngest inhabitants, has not yet been fully implemented in legislation that is substantially aligned to the Code. This needs to be lobbied for.
We must keep in mind that traditionally, and even in our grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ time, almost all children were breastfed, usually for a year. Today Norway & Sweden have 90% breastfeeding rates, and our ambition must be to achieve those rates. This would be in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals which has 5 goals dealing with the empowerment and education of women and the elimination of poverty and with health & wellbeing.
We are indebted to all the wonderful people who have helped to increase the numbers breastfeeding, by their commitment to the ideal and by their dedication and support. There are the voluntary community organisations like Breastival itself, La Leche League, Cuidiu, Friends of Breastfeeding, who provide information and support to expectant and new mothers. There is Bainne Beatha, the new energetic and highly motivated and able group I am delighted to see are taking part in Breastival. Then the wonderful Baby feeding Law Group who are doing such work in highlighting the unethical behaviours of the Commercial Formula Corporations. I hope you will all be able to see the film ‘Tigers’ during the festival which throws such light on what mothers and infants of the world are up against.
There are many professionals in the Maternity related services who are doing great work in promoting and helping with breastfeeding. Unfortunately the needed action and resources are not in place.
I think the inspired objective of the Breastival organisation of normalising breastfeeding is a great way to go. I would like to see a coming together of all the interests to meet in public and see if a campaign of lobbying for legislation and resources of information and education and of services could be planned. There are so many committed individuals and groups working in their own way. I think if they were to come together that big push that is needed could happen.
My great wish would be that as breastfeeding promotion is aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030, that before that end date of 2030 is reached we will have reached a breastfeeding figure of 80% to 90%.
There is such wonderful commitment and generosity and love shown by the women who have experienced breastfeeding that I feel certain they will continue with the increasing success that they have attained so far. I look forward to attending Breastival in person in the future when this dreadful Pandemic will be behind us.
This year we will enjoy Breastival virtually and I wish it and you all great success and enjoyment.