The number of babies being breastfed is increasing in Ireland, in a turnaround from historic low rates, as the HSE reminds healthcare professionals of the many resources it now has that can help support and encourage new mothers to breastfeed.
According to new HSE figures, there was a 5 per cent point increase in the number of babies breastfed at the first public health nurse visit between 2019 and 2021, a rise to 59 per cent.
The HSE has recruited 20 additional infant feeding and lactation posts within nursing and midwifery services to support breastfeeding parents. Midwives are the first to assist with breastfeeding and should mothers need more specialist support, all 19 maternity hospitals now have a specialist lactation support service available. Classes are available in every maternity hospital to learn about what is normal for breastfeeding and to know what to expect in the first few days and weeks after birth. Here women can learn how to hand express breast milk, for example.
More infant feeding/lactation posts are being recruited to ensure nationwide availability within primary care services. A total of 110 breastfeeding groups have now resumed meeting in person, providing important peer-to-peer support for parents on their breastfeeding journey.
Laura McHugh, HSE National Breastfeeding Coordinator, commented: “While breastfeeding rates are increasing around the country, we want to continue to build on this progress by supporting every parent who may need help on their breastfeeding journey. I welcome our colleagues taking up the new infant feeding and lactation roles around the country, and although not everyone will need their services, their support will make a big difference for parents who do.
“As well as the new posts, we have breastfeeding preparation and antenatal classes, our midwives and public health nurses and a growing number of in-person groups resuming post pandemic. There are also a range of online resources such as virtual breastfeeding groups and mychild.ie, which has practical breastfeeding advice and the ‘Ask Our Expert’ live chat and email breastfeeding support service, available seven days a week.
“Approximately six-in-every-10 babies are breastfed in the first week of life, and we have developed a holistic range of supports to help mothers and babies learning this new skill.”
Anne O’Malley, HSE Public Health Nurse, Community Healthcare Dublin North City and County added: “Every breastfeed makes a difference because any amount of breast milk is beneficial for mother and baby. If a mother can breastfeed for a short amount of time it will be helpful, and the longer you breastfeed the greater protection for mother and baby. We want every mother to know about all the free supports available to help her to breastfeed for longer if she wishes.”
The HSE has sent out information packs to maternity hospitals and primary care centres across the country promoting www.mychild.ie and the message that expert help is available for parents every step of the way.
Benefits of breastfeeding – accessible information for your patients
Your breast milk protects your baby against lots of illnesses and conditions. It is designed to meet your baby’s every need. Breast milk contains antibodies that can help fight infection. Your breast milk contains essential enzymes, hormones and antibodies. These are vital for your baby’s normal growth, development, and good health. Breast milk is tailored for your baby and their stage of development. It changes as
your baby grows to meet their needs and protects them from illness.
When you come into contact with a virus or bacteria, your body will make antibodies to protect itself. These antibodies are passed into your breast milk so your baby is protected too.
Seeking out support to help continue breastfeeding
Maternity hospitals, public health nurses, breastfeeding groups, and voluntary support organisations provide face-to-face, virtual and phone support after a baby is born. If additional support is needed, lactation consultants provide specialist help to overcome breastfeeding challenges. Find details of supports available in each area on www.mychild.ie/breastfeeding.
The HSE’s ‘Ask our breastfeeding expert’ service is available for free on mychild.ie, where parents can talk to lactation consultants online for information and advice on any part of breastfeeding via email or live chat. The live chat service is available from Monday to