Low breastfeeding rate costs State €800m a year

Breastfeeding reduces infant deaths and protects against obesity, study claims

The State has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, according to a new study. Photograph: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

The State has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, according to a new study. Photograph: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

 

The State has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, according to a detailed analysis of trends published in The Lancet.

Just 55 per cent of Irish mothers have ever breastfed, the lowest figure recorded in the 27 high-income countries included in the survey.

This compared with 98 per cent in Sweden and 81 per cent in the UK.

The breastfeeding rate 12 months after birth in the State is 2 per cent, the same as in Saudi Arabia.

Only the UK, at less than 1 per cent, has a lower rate.

The equivalent figure is 30 per cent in Australia and 60 per cent in Japan.

Overall breastfeeding rates at 12 months in high-income countries are 10 times higher than in Ireland.

The study says there is a strong economic case for promoting breastfeeding, which has dramatic effects on life expectancy, increases intelligence and may protect against obesity in later life.

It estimates the losses in high-income countries from not breastfeeding at 0.53 per cent of gross national income – equivalent in the State’s case to about €800 million.

The study says increasing breastfeeding to near universal levels for infants and young children could save more than 800,000 children’s lives a year worldwide - or 13 per cent of all deaths in children under the age of two - and prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.

These savings can be made in all countries, rich and poor alike.

In wealthier countries, breastfeeding is said to reduce the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than one-third.

The study is also critical of the “aggressive marketing” of breastmilk substitutes, which it says is undermining efforts to improve breastfeeding rates.

National maternity strategy

The Government’s national maternity strategy, published this week, highlighted a perceived lack of support for women feeding their babies.

The strategy said: “Women reported receiving inconsistent, sometimes contradictory and poor quality information, and limited support on postnatal wards, with little or no access to lactation consultants.”