Sunday 19 November 2017

'There are over 300 support groups available for breastfeeding mothers' - HSE

A woman breastfeeding her daughter pictured during National Breastfeeding Week. Photo: HSE
A woman breastfeeding her daughter pictured during National Breastfeeding Week. Photo: HSE
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Some 58 per cent of mothers are breastfeeding their babies on discharge from maternity hospital now in Ireland. At three months, this drops to 38.8pc.

This means that Ireland currently has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

But by 2021, the HSE wants this to have increased by 10 pc – and have 68pc of Irish mothers breastfeeding on discharge.

The Baby Friendly Health Initiative, a global program which is run by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef to encourage and recognize hospitals that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding, recently had to stop operations after the HSE cut its funding 18 months ago.

Just nine of Ireland’s 19 maternity hospitals have achieved the “baby friendly status”.

But the HSE says it is revising the Baby Friendly Health Initiative.

“A revised model of the Baby Friendly Initiative is being developed currently, and we will start implementing it next year,” says Siobhan Hourigan, National Breastfeeding Coordinator at the HSE.

"Our goal is to ensure that best quality breastfeeding practices and supports are in place across all 19 maternity hospitals in order to achieve the desired increase in breastfeeding rates”.

“The Baby Friendly Initiative, and the WHO/UNICEF '10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding' which underpins it, is an important element in how we deliver a consistent positive experience to all mothers."

“We’re continuing the message of ‘every breastfeed makes a difference’.”

“It’s about support and reassurance. All of our hospitals are working hard to support breastfeeeding mums.”

“For some mothers it’s maybe they’ve come across difficulties and they didn’t get the support they needed. So we’re putting out the message that there are over 300 support groups available for them.”

Social Democrat councillor Jennifer Whitmore from Delganey, Co Wicklow became the first councillor in Ireland to breastfeed in a council chamber. She believes Ireland is a world apart when it comes to other developed countries and breastfeeding.

“I think it’s obvious that we’ve a problem with breastfeeding in Ireland. We have the lowest rate with high income countries,” Cllr Whitmore said.

“My feeling is that the biggest problem in Ireland is breastfeeding is not visible. I had my first two babies in Australia. In Australia you just breastfeed everywhere. It’s so normal over there. You’ll be in any shop and you’ll see someone breastfeeding. There’s just no issue; it’s part of daily life.”

In 2015, when Ms Whitmore was attending the launch of the Social Democrats party, she brought her baby along. She also breastfed her baby at a council meeting, which she felt she could not miss.

“I was in the fog of post birth and I had to go the meeting, I had no choice and I had the baby with me.”

“The officials were very supportive and all my fellow councillors were very supportive. My baby was only a few weeks old. It was a property tax meeting that I really wanted to get to, and since you couldn’t co-opt anyone and no one else could speak for me, I knew that I had to go.”

“The baby was two weeks old at the launch of the Social Democrats. I used to bring her to all the meetings.”

In Australia, mothercraft nurses answer any breastfeeding questions to new mothers.

“They had a hotline, and I’d swear they knew my husband by name," she joked. "You’d ring up and say, oh my baby is crying, and they’d talk you through it.”

“I think it’s going to become more and more important as we’re moving away from the family supports.”

National Breastfeeding Week is taking place this week from October 1-7. The campaign message from the HSE is ‘Every Breastfeed makes a Difference’.

“The HSE would like to let mothers and mothers-to-be, and their families, know about the breastfeeding supports that are available,” a spokesperson said.

“These include the free Ask our Expert service and live Web Chat provided by Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) at  We provide answers to all your questions, support and information to help you and your baby. The breastfeeding videos on provide guidance on positioning and attaching baby; expressing milk; what to expect in the early days; and tips from other mothers.”

“There is also a HSE Breastfeeding Facebook page, which provides a community support for mothers. There are over 300 breastfeeding support groups around the country and details and times are on Some of these groups are organised by Public Health Nurses (PHNs), while others are organised by Lactation Consultants in the hospitals or trained breastfeeding support volunteers all who are, or have been, breastfeeding mothers. They are a great source of information, support and friendship.”

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