Sabina hosts Reception and “Latching-On” Morning to celebrate National Breastfeeding Week 2023

Wed 27th Sep, 2023 | 10:30
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech by Sabina Higgins at a Reception and ‘Latching-on’ Morning 2023

Áras an Uachtaráin, Wednesday, 27th September, 2023

You are so welcome with your beautiful breastfed babies. I hope you will enjoy the morning here and have a lovely happy time. It is wonderful to see such enthusiasm for breastfeeding their babies by so many mothers. We were inundated with requests to attend! 

The sad thing is that breastfeeding rates in Ireland are still so low and so many mothers are missing out on the opportunity, and so many babies are missing out on the optimal start they could have in their lives if they were getting the extra benefits that they would receive from being breastfed, such as the colostrum for their immune system. The world health organisation of the United Nations has provided the research that gives the evidence that the very best start in life is for a baby to be breastfed exclusively by a well-nourished mother for the first six months of its life and then introducing Solids food as the baby is weaned and then continue if possible with some breastfeeding for the rest of the year are or as long as the mother wishes.

Why in Ireland we are not aiming for reaching our goal of 90% breastfed babies.  What are the barriers?  What needs to be done – urgently?

It is so welcome now to have so many concerned groups, organisations, agencies and individuals who are committed to advocating and supporting breastfeeding that their representatives here today will talk to us about what they do and what they think can, or should, be done to make major headway.  I myself feel that there is a lot that needs to happen.  

Ireland has the lowest race for breastfeeding in Europe and even in the world many countries have rates of up to 80% or 90%.   There are many cultural and societal reasons for this but nonetheless many women wishing to breastfeed are not getting the support they need.  62% of mothers initiate breastfeeding while in hospital but by the time they leave this has reduced to 37% and at three months this is down to 31% and only 9% are breastfeeding at six months.

This speaks of a great failure in our culture and in our society and in our healthcare provision. This should be addressed as a matter of priority and of great importance. It suggests that the mother wishing to breastfeed is not getting the support she needs in preparing for breastfeeding and for baby latching on successfully.  Mothers can be discouraged and give up if they are not prepared and know what to expect.  

For instance preparing the nipples and know about the growth spurts like at three weeks, six weeks, six months when baby needs to  feed for maybe a whole day to increase the supply of milk.  In surveys mothers said that the midwives were overworked and too busy to give them the time they needed to help them. 

The evidence seems to be that there are not enough midwives available to adequately meet the needs to support and protect breastfeeding as they would wish.  It is a matter of priority that a mother would have continuously of midwife care during pregnancy, at birth, and for insuring in hospital that the mother is supported with breastfeeding until latching on is firmly established and that supports continue at home by the community midwives until success is assured.

To increase breastfeeding rates and attitudes to breastfeeding there must be enough healthcare providers sufficiently trained and competent in their attitude and knowledge of breastfeeding .The role of the GP, the obstetrician and midwife and nurses are essential in supporting and protecting breastfeeding.  Competent midwives qualified as lactation assistants are the frontline health providers who are essential to the supporting and promoting and protection of breastfeeding.  The greatest benefit could be achieved, and probably can only be achieved, by recognising and prioritising the necessity of the presence of the midwife.  I think there should be as many midwives as are required to give continuity of care to the mother right through the continuum of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

All our ancestors through the multiple generations were culturally familiar and gratefully accepting of breastfeeding.  Let us bring back breastfeeding – the normalisation and familiarity of breastfeeding.        It would help the country’s familiarity if it were part of the school curricula, and if breastfeeding in public spaces were facilitated then women could feel free and welcome to feed their children in public.

It would be a highly desirable move to have the HSE have programs and regular ads on television where they promoted breastfeeding rather than the daily ads we see showing babies receive the formula feed by largely unaccountable corporations with endless resources of Finance for lobbying and abuse of advertising.  They are active in what they see as a significant and growing market.  One they see as endless, unable to demolish the research that shows that breast is best they seek to speak of follow-on products that, in reality, are contradictory to what breastfeeding envisages. 
UNICEF and WHO maintain that the $55 billion formula milk industry uses systematic and unequal marketing and unethical marketing strategies.

The international code of marketing of breast milk substitute known as the CODE is an international health policy framework to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes in order to protect breastfeeding. It was published by WHO in 1981 and is an internationally agreed voluntary code that Ireland has still not fully implemented. Bans are currently in place on all marketing of breast milk substitutes in many countries like Brazil, India, Ghana et cetera. It would be good if we could organise to get a representative from all of the wonderful groups promoting breastfeeding to come together to prepare a plan and lobby government to allocate funding to this most important endeavour. There are many public representatives in the Oireachtas who have already spoken out in favour of this and the great debate in the Senate.  Promoting breastfeeding feeding was very good indeed very encouraging and is worth reading up on in the Oireachtas RTÉ Channel. Their proposals would have such a great benefit to society as a whole and would save billions in health finance over time.

I would like if we could organise to get a representative from all of the groups to come together to prepare a plan and lobby the government to allocate funding to this most important endeavour.  This would have such a great benefit to society as a whole and would save billions in health finance over time.