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RCPI proposes actions to improve Irish breastfeeding rates

The RCPI has called for greater support for breastfeeding families, better education for the public and for healthcare professionals, and improvements in hospital facilities to support breastfeeding.

A paper from the Faculty of Paediatrics, Faculty of Public Health and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the RCPI highlights that despite improvements over the last 15 years, breastfeeding rates in Ireland remain below international targets. Cultural norms, knowledge gaps among healthcare professionals and lack of practical support impact on these rates.

Spokesperson Dr Anne Doolan, Consultant Neonatologist, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and one of the lead authors of the paper, said: “We know that breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for infant’s growth and development, and that it has the potential to improve health on a nationwide scale. We have national policy which contributes to normalising breastfeeding, but barriers still exist.

“It is difficult for many to access specialist support when needed. We have very limited numbers of publicly funded lactation consultants. Such support can make a huge difference in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.”

“Public health nurses too play an integral role as they meet mothers and infants shortly after hospital discharge and can identify breastfeeding challenges, establish individualised care plans or refer to an IBCLC if necessary.

“This role can be strengthened with more public health nurse resources focused on child health and wellbeing services, as per Sláintcare and the National Health Childhood Programme.”

Dr Meredith Kinoshita, also one of the paper’s lead authors and Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics, noted that mothers report receiving conflicting information about breastfeeding from health professionals which leads to uncertainty and undermines confidence.

Dr Kinoshita said: “Healthcare professionals should have the appropriate education and skillset to support breastfeeding, with consistent information and continuity between services in hospitals and the community. Clinical exposure is key in this regard.”

“Hospital facilities should also support breastfeeding, for example when breastfeeding mothers are admitted as inpatients. Rooming-in facilities and equipment and facilities for expressing and storing breastmilk should be provided in those instances. The establishment of a donor milk services for the Republic of Ireland would also be welcomed.”

Dr Louise Kyne, Dean of the Faculty of Paediatrics, said: “Paediatricians and obstetricians in particular have an influential role in supporting the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding as they meet infants and their families often in the perinatal period.

“RCPI as the postgraduate specialist training body for these specialities is committed to ensuring that its training curricula and continuing professional development, equip doctors with the appropriate knowledge to support breastfeeding.”

The paper also affirms RCPI’s commitment to hosting all meetings, conferences, and study days free from sponsorship from breastmilk substitutes in accordance with the World Health Organisation Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

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