IRELAND has "the lowest rate of breastfeeding in the world," and most Irish maternity hospitals are not enforcing national Breastfeeding Policy guidelines, according to the authors of a new report.
They also warned that "urgent action" must be taken to warn Irish parents about the risks of early weaning, with evidence that half of Irish babies are being put on to solid food at four months.
Medical advice is to hold off on solids until the child is six months.
The Growing Up in Ireland study found that just 56pc of respondents reported that their child was ever breastfed, as against a European norm of around 90pc.
By six months, the number of mothers still exclusively breastfeeding was down to just 6pc.
Irish women were 'less likely to breastfeed compared to all other nationalities', the report found.
An industry expert told the Irish Independent that the Government is spending less than €100,000 a year on promoting breastfeeding, with just one breastfeeding co-ordinator employed on a national basis.
The cost of treating acute infections in infants nationally stands at around €12m to €15m each year.
Co-author of the report, Richard Layte of the ESRI, said that if "a fraction" of this money was spent in promoting breastfeeding, it would save money even in the short-term, since breastfeeding prevents such infections in the first place.
Meanwhile, Professor Layte expressed concern that half of Irish children are being weaned far too early, at four months, and said health professionals need to communicate a clearer message about the consequences.
Earning weaning sparks rapid weight gain and, while some Irish parents consider this to be a positive thing, Prof Layte warned that this can lead to metabolic disorders later in life.