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GPs need more education on breastfeeding, hears ICGP AGM

The ICGP should provide more education for GPs on breastfeeding, especially surrounding medication for breastfeeding women, the ICGP virtual AGM heard on Saturday.

A motion was put forward from the Meath and Cork city Faculties calling on the College to increase educational material relating to breastfeeding for GPs; and to “proceed to cease to accept sponsorship and advertising revenue from formula milk companies”.

Speaking on the first part of the motion, Dr Deborah Ryan of the Meath Faculty said breastfeeding had “multiple benefits” for individuals and society.

“But Ireland continues to have very low rates of breastfeeding, especially beyond the six months. Many women do feel extreme guilt and stress that they are not able to breastfeed. These women are being frequently let down by a lack of adequate support both in hospitals and in the community.”

Dr Ryan noted that GPs have close contact with women throughout their pregnancy and at new-born checks. “Therefore, we as GPs need to have up-to-date knowledge on infant feeding when advising these women, as well as up-to-date knowledge on local supports available to them.”

“We feel the ICGP needs to provide more of this support and more education for GPs especially surrounding medication for breastfeeding women, as this is not the same as prescribing during pregnancy, and up-to-date knowledge can help prevent women stopping breastfeeding prematurely.”

She added the Faculty agreed with the World Health Organisation (WHO) code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and that the ICGP should cease accepting sponsorship from milk formula companies.

Speaking on this part of the motion, on behalf of the Cork city Faculty, Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon quoted from a BMJ article in 2019, citing growing concern that industry continued to stretch and violate the WHO’s code.

A recent investigation, according to the BMJ article, had underlined the “substantial harms” caused by promotion of breast milk substitutes and “the biases introduced into research and clinical practice by industry influence”.

As Dr Fitzgibbon outlined, the BMJ had therefore decided to institute a complete ban on such advertising in its journals, as previous attempts to implement a due diligence approach had failed.

“They acknowledge it will have a significant impact on their revenues, the BMJ estimated a £300,000 loss…They noted they were not alone in making this decision, that the RCPCH [Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health] had also announced that it would no longer accept funding from formula milk companies – for them it was a loss of £40,000 per year.”

“Both of these organisations felt it was the right thing to do, that supporting formula milk companies in advertising – while we might see it as not being direct to the consumer, it does of course influence the breastfeeding rates within the country, and that is why we propose that the College would cease to accept sponsorship and advertising revenue from these companies.” The motion was backed by ICGP members at the meeting.

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