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Friends of Breastfeeding Virtual Awards 2021 opening Speech by Sabina Higgins

19 November 2021

I have such good memories of being with Friends of Breastfeeding at the 10th Annual Friends of Breastfeeding Awards in 2018, when I had the privilege of being awarded Advocate of the Year, and also of the great Gala Dinner in Clontarf Castle in 2019.

With the intrusion of Covid 19 Pandemic and all the lockdown, that time now seems so far away, yet this year through all the events held for Breastfeeding Week in October, I had a sense that things have, nevertheless, being moving on quite well and that the interest in the importance of Breastfeeding is growing steadily. This is mainly due to the great work and enthusiasm of the many wonderful groups encouraging Breastfeeding.  The webinars of the last few years have also been very successful.

The urgency shown at COP 26 in Glasgow of taking action on Climate Change, has brought a new awareness of the changes to all our lifestyle that will be necessary if we are to achieve the 1.5 target on Global warming by 2030. I think there is more and more awareness that if the planet is to survive, everyone must contribute.

At the webinar “Feeding the Future Shared Responsibility” during Breastfeeding Week, that was hosted by the National Women’s Council and Breastfeeding Law Group, and in partnership with so many concerned groups including yourselves, the HSE, Bainne Beatha, La Leche League- the President Michael D spoke of his participation in the United Nations Food Security Summit in New York in Sept, and on his reflection on the contribution on Breastfeeding there, he spoke of his conviction that as he put it “recovery and promoting Breastfeeding could make one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest contribution to children’s health, nutrition and development”. 

He said “Why can governments not see that beyond the direct benefit to the health of children and mothers, which is the most important aspect, there is the possibility of avoiding the spending of billions later, on issues of health that could have been avoided, had breastfeeding been recognised as the sustainable approach, as a right, and as a promoted health policy”. “He says that breastfeeding should be a central part of the food security strategy discussed at a Global Level”.

Here in Ireland, the percentage of mothers breastfeeding is the lowest in Europe and if we are to achieve the goal of as high a percentage as possible – or probably 85% -95%, of mothers breastfeeding their baby for 6 months and over – as do say the Scandinavian countries, and as is advised by the World Health Organisation, we need to change. There needs to be a national policy of continuity of promoting, care and support for successful breastfeeding right through the mother’s journey, through pregnancy, in hospital and after, and maybe through a longer stay in hospital, and at her home, for as long as is necessary for breastfeeding to be successfully established and supported.

The principal health professional who can help to  make all this possible is obviously – it seems to me- the midwife. The qualified, and experienced midwife could deal with all matters, and all problems relating to Breastfeeding,  and in a rare case of specific problems these would be dealt with by the doctor. The Public Health Nurses involved would of course be  qualified experienced midwives. 

At the present time there are not nearly as many midwives in the Maternity Health Service as are required to provide the necessary continuity of support for women. This situation is a top priority for remedy.

To campaign for all the resources necessary to achieve this, I would hope that in the near future all the wonderful groups, and health professionals promoting Breastfeeding at the present time, might come together to prepare a submission to the Health Minister and the relevant Government Department, and that a deputation to the minister would be requested.

For now I want to congratulate Friends of Breastfeeding for all their fine initiatives and to wish you a successful, enjoyable 2021 awards event.