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Statement by Mrs. Sabina Higgins on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week 1-8 August 2022

World Breastfeeding Week is the week agencies and individuals all over the world come together to share their efforts in the promoting of breastfeeding. As an advocate for supports for breastfeeding mothers, part of one of the Sustainable Development Goals, I offer my full support to World Breastfeeding Week.

We know from reports that nearly 25 million babies under six months are malnourished worldwide and that approximately 15% of babies are born too early with risk of poor growth and development. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals contains a goal of Zero Hunger. Current UN estimates that nearly 690 million people are hungry or 8.9 of the world’s population. Breastfeeding is such an important tool in combatting global hunger but also in assisting with children’s health, nutrition and development.

The benefits of breastfeeding at a national level must be promoted and encouraged, but breastfeeding should also be embraced as a central part of the food security discussions at global level.

For many years I have been pleased to host breastfeeding events for National Breastfeeding Week in Áras an Uachtaráin to publically support breastfeeding mothers and advocates, and to bring people together in as part of a supportive community. 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 of mothers breastfeeding their baby for 6 months and over, as is advised by the World Health Organisation, we need to change.

Last February, I joined with breastfeeding campaigners in welcoming a seminal new report by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF on how marketing influences decision on infant formula.  An abuse of advertising has developed which seeks to confuse with slogans that speak of ‘follow-on’ products that are in reality contradictory to what breastfeeding principles envisage or stand for.  Our hope is that honest and factual representations on the benefits of breastfeeding will be assisted by the publication that report.

We need to promote, care and support breastfeeding, with support of midwives in particular, 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.

There are many wonderful groups in Ireland advocating and supporting breastfeeding who will be joining in, as I will, in celebration of what is the most available and important contributions to the elimination of malnutrition.