independent

Tuesday 11 December 2018

The Dundalk woman behind Breastival

Co-founders of Breastival with Belfast’s Lord Mayor R-L: Dr Jennifer Hanratty and daughter Eimear, Cllr Deirdre Hargey Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jennie Wallace and daughter Cleo. Photo by Wheel in the Wind Photography
Co-founders of Breastival with Belfast’s Lord Mayor R-L: Dr Jennifer Hanratty and daughter Eimear, Cllr Deirdre Hargey Lord Mayor of Belfast, Jennie Wallace and daughter Cleo. Photo by Wheel in the Wind Photography

Margaret Roddy

'It's not best, it's just normal,' says Dundalk woman Dr Jennifer Hanratty, who was a joint organiser of Breastival Belfast, on Saturday August 4th.

Jennifer, who has been living in Belfast for more than fifteen years, is delighted with the success of the event which gained significant cross party support for the promotion and protection of breastfeeding in an attempt to address the low breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland.

During Breastival Belfast, a family festival celebrating all things breastfeeding, 191 mums took part in the Global Big Latch On, breaking last year's record for the most children breastfed at the same time and place in Northern Ireland.

Currently working as a research fellow at the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation at Queen's University Belfast, Jennifer became aware that there is 'quite a lot of negative perceptions around breast feeding in public' after the birth of her daughter Eimear.

In fact, Eimear was just two weeks old when Jennifer turned on the news in July 2016 to hear breastfeeding mums being branded 'exhibitionists'.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson caused waves when he described women who wanted to breastfeed in the House of Commons as 'exhibitionists' saying the practice should be done in private.

Jennifer was dismayed by the debate which followed and then discovered that Northern Ireland has some of the lowest rates of breast feeding in the world.

When she heard about the 'Big Latch On', a global initiative which aims at promoting breast feeding by bringing mothers and families together, she decided to get involved.

After the initial event in Belfast City Hall in 2016, which was attended by forty people, Jennifer met up with Jennie Wallace, another mum and business woman.

'We got chatting about the Big Latch On and got funding from the public health agency to hold a bigger event in 2017,' she recalls.

This saw them hosting the first Breastival Belfast, which was a huge success as mothers who were breastfeeding were delighted to be able to meet up with others doing the same.

'The level of interest was amazing so we knew we had to go bigger this year.'

A chance of venue saw Breastival Belfast 2018 taking place in the Ulster Museum, with over 500 adults turning up, plus children, for a day of talks and workshops for expectant parents, new families, experienced parents and grandparents and supporters.

The Politics of Milk panel discussion at Breastival heard from two MPs and four MLAs from six parties in Northern Ireland and was chaired by the outgoing NI Director of the Royal College of Midwives, Breedagh Hughes.

The panel was also joined by Claire Allcutt from the Baby Feeding Law Group who set the scene about the World Health Organisation code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes or formula. She highlighted the main weakness of the regulations in that they allow formula companies to market follow-on formula - a loophole which enables promotion of breast milk substitutes.

Despite the NHS and World Health Organisation recommendation that children be breastfed until the age of two and beyond, less than 7 per cent of children in Northern Ireland are breastfed past six months.

'Rates in the Republic of Ireland are also low and Ireland is actually a major exporter of infant formula,' says Jennifer. 'We are not trying to say that breast is best, but just that it is just normal. However, it is something which has to be learned and mothers who wish to breastfeed need to be supported.'

The Argus

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