Breastfeeding rates vary hugely between urban and rural areas

Figures show stark difference between wealthier and more deprived parts of Dublin

Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Photograph: iStock

Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Photograph: iStock

 

Massive variations in breastfeeding rates between urban and rural areas, and between wealthier and more deprived parts of Dublin, are revealed in new figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Breastfeeding rates in affluent areas of Dublin are more than three times higher than in counties Donegal and Louth, the figures show.

Overall, barely half of all babies – 55.4 per cent – were being fed by their mothers by the time of the first visit by a public health nurse, usually within days of discharge from hospital.

This compares with rates of 90 per cent in Australia, and about 80 per cent in the US and the UK.

At three months, the rate fell to 39.3 per cent for the year to date, according to the figures supplied by the HSE to Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher.

Urban and rural

Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world but the figures show for the first time that its popularity varies hugely across different urban and rural areas.

The Dublin southeast region leads the way, with 84.3 per cent of babies at least partially breastfeeding after birth and 66.1 per cent at three months.

In contrast, just four out of 10 babies – 39.8 per cent – in South Tipperary start life on the breast, falling to 32.9 per cent after three months.

By then, Donegal is the HSE region with the lowest figures, with just 19.6 per cent of babies breastfed. Also at three months, 21.1 per cent of babies in Louth are breastfed, and 23.4 per cent in Longford-Westmeath.

While the figures are generally higher in urban areas, there are sharp variations within Dublin. Initial breastfeeding rates range from 84.3 per cent in Dublin southeast, to 81.3 per cent in Dublin south city but just 48.4 per cent in Dublin southwest.

Dún Laoghaire shows the sharpest falloff in breastfeeding rates, from 57.9 per cent at the initial public health nurse visit to 28.9 per cent at three months.

Mr Kelleher said the figures clearly showed “remarkable variations” in rates around the country, which needed to be tackled.

The HSE’s five-year action plan for breastfeeding targets included an annual 2 per cent increase in breastfeeding duration rates between 2016 and 2021, he noted. “Well, half way through the second year of the plan and there has basically been no improvement in the rate.”

The recent withdrawal by the HSE of €50,000 annual funding under the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative to maternity hospitals to promote breastfeeding would only undermine efforts to increase the rate, he said.

A study published in The Lancet last year found Ireland had the lowest breastfeeding rates of 27 high-income countries. Pointing out that breastfeeding has dramatic effects on life expectancy, intelligence and protection against obesity, it estimated the cost to the State at about €800 million.