ROI PRESS RELEASE
6 October 2017
Breastfeeding rates in Ireland increasing steadily but widening gap between North and South
However, data shows steep decline in breastfeeding in early weeks after birth
Data shows age, income and nationality influence breastfeeding rates
A new all-island report published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) highlights that breastfeeding rates are increasing steadily in Ireland but the gap between North and South is getting wider. In addition, the data shows a steep decline in breastfeeding rates in the early weeks after birth.
Dr Helen McAvoy, IPH Director of Policy, explained that in the Republic of Ireland between 2006 and 2015, breastfeeding rates at discharge from hospital increased from 49% to 58% – a nine percentage point rise. In the same period in Northern Ireland, breastfeeding rates at discharge increased by five percentage points – from 40% to 45%.
The report – Breastfeeding on the island of Ireland – highlights that:
- 58% of babies in the Republic of Ireland received any breast milk at discharge from hospital;
- Amongst all babies in the Republic in 2015, 53.7% were still receiving breast milk at first Public Heath Nurse visit (within 72 hours of discharge) and 35.4% at three months;
- In Ireland, Irish mothers were the least likely of all nationalities to start breastfeeding.
“Rates of starting breastfeeding have increased over the island of Ireland in the last ten years although Northern Ireland was starting from a lower point than the Republic and the gap between North and South has widened. However, across the island there is a steep decline in breastfeeding in the early weeks after birth,” Dr McAvoy said.
Dr Helen McAvoy pointed out that these rates matter because breastfeeding makes a significant contribution to population health by protecting infant health and contributing to maternal health. Research published in the eminent medical publication, The Lancet, last year, estimated that, globally, over 22,000 children’s lives could be saved each year if breastfeeding maintenance was significantly increased from present levels, while 20,000 deaths from breast cancer could be prevented.
Dr McAvoy pointed out that older mothers and those in the highest socio-economic groups are the most likely to initiate breastfeeding and to continue with it.
“Mothers from ‘higher professional’ and ‘skilled manual workers’ occupations (65.6% and 63.5% respectively) were more than twice as likely to exclusively breastfeed as mothers who are unemployed (28.6%). Likewise, breastfeeding rates amongst younger mothers were persistently low, so it’s clear that significant inequalities persist in relation to breastfeeding initiation and duration” Dr Helen McAvoy said.
The report highlighted that society as a whole must continue to focus on how we create a more breastfeeding supportive environment to improve initiation and duration of breastfeeding. In this context, Dr Joanna Purdy added that breastfeeding is a collective responsibility which bestows shared rewards on our children, their mothers and wider society.
“Creating environments and communities where women feel supported and empowered to both start and maintain breastfeeding is essential. In this context, we’re very much looking forward to the establishment of a working group on culture change – including experts from outside the health sector – under the HSE’s Breastfeeding Action Plan and the Healthy Ireland framework.”
Notes to Editors
The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) is an all-island body which supports cooperation on public health North and South to promote collective action for sustained improvements in health with a particular focus on addressing health inequalities.
Key messages from ‘Breastfeeding on the island of Ireland’
- Breastfeeding can make a significant contribution to population health by improving health outcomes for both mother and child.
- Breastfeeding rates in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have increased slowly over the last ten years. Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of breastfeeding within the UK.
- Breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland are lower than those of the Republic of Ireland and the gap has increased over time.
- In 2015, the National Perinatal Reporting System recorded that 58% of babies in the Republic of Ireland were receiving any breastmilk on discharge from hospital. The Health Service Executive recorded that 35% of babies were receiving some breastmilk at three months.
- In 2015/16, the Northern Ireland Child Health System recorded that 46% of babies were receiving any breastmilk on discharge from hospital. 21% of babies were receiving some breastmilk at three months.
- Younger mothers and those living with socio-economic disadvantage were less likely to breastfeed in both jurisdictions. Older mothers and those in the highest socio-economic groups are the most likely to initiate breastfeeding and to continue with it.
- Data from Northern Ireland suggests that public attitudes and perceptions relating to breastfeeding are improving. Creating a supportive breastfeeding environment across the island is a shared challenge and forms the focus of strategies/action plans in both jurisdictions.
Access the full report at https//www.publichealth.ie
If you would like to play your part to support breastfeeding in Ireland
- Employers - https://www.healthpromotion.ie/hp-files/docs/HPM00365.pdf
- Fathers to be and fathers - http://www.mhfi.org/dadsandbreastfeeding.pdf
- Grandparents - http://www.setrust.hscni.net/pdf/Grandparents_Guide_to_Breastfeeding_Leaflet_05_13.pdf
- If you are unhappy with the marketing of formula and breast milk substitutes, contact IBFAN Ireland - https://ibfanireland.wordpress.com/ or the Baby Feeding Law Group http://bflgireland.ie/
- For information on breastfeeding support groups operating in Ireland or to get answers and support from a qualified advisor – https://www.breastfeeding.ie