Ireland has ‘distance to make up’ in normalising breastfeeding – Higgins

‘Babies come hot-wired to breastfeed’ parents hear at Áras an Uachtaráin event

 Noah Morley Robinson (16 months) and his mother, Aisling Robinson pictured at Áras an Uachtaráin where Sabina Higgins hosted a “Latching On” morning on Monday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.

Noah Morley Robinson (16 months) and his mother, Aisling Robinson pictured at Áras an Uachtaráin where Sabina Higgins hosted a “Latching On” morning on Monday. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin.


Ireland has “a distance to make up” if it is to reach a point where breastfeeding is considered the normal way to feed a baby, advocates for breastfeeding have heard.

Dozens of mothers (and a smattering of fathers), accompanied by their baby daughters and sons, gathered at Áras an Uachtaráin on Monday to take part in the annual celebration of national breastfeeding week.

Opening the event, President Michael D Higgins praised his wife Sabina for her breastfeeding advocacy work over the past four decades, underlining that breastfeeding “simply creates a better life”. “It simply isn’t acceptable that we would be satisfied with the low level of breastfeeding in Ireland at the present time,” said the President.

“We all must do something to promote breastfeeding, it’s obvious advantages for young babies but also its wonderful contribution to future health and preventative measures in relation to adult life. . . and here in Ireland we have a distance to make up.”

Mrs Higgins thanked all the parents in attendance for being “pioneers” in their promotion of breastfeeding but warned of the intimidation and embarrassment that still exists around women who feed in public. Underlining the health benefits of the practice, Mrs Higgins said that breastfeeding was one of the key components to meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals. She also praised Limerick for becoming the country’s first “breastfeeding friendly” city and county last month and called on Dublin and Galway to follow suit.

Hot-wired to breastfeed

Kay Browne from La Leche League of Ireland described breastfeeding as the most natural, safest and healthiest way for a baby to be fed. “If every baby in the world was breastfed we would have a huge drop in child mortality. Babies are born to breastfeed, they come hot-wired to breastfeed,” Ms Browne told the packed out gathering as the younger attendees cooed, laughed, cried and gurgled.

“As a country we need to reach a point where breastfeeding is seen as the normal way to feed a baby and where the majority of babies are breastfed.”

Dr Krysia Lynch from the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services Ireland called on the State to learn from and listen to the experiences of mothers who have breastfed their children. “We need to encourage our society to believe in breastfeeding, the baby believes in it after all. The key is inclusivity. 191 babies born in Ireland every day are demanding this of us.”

Regina Keogh from the Association of Lactation Consultants in Ireland’s contribution to the event was met with loud applause after she spoke of her hopes for the results of the upcoming presidential election. “We really want to thank Sabina and President Higgins for all you’ve been doing over the last number of years and really hope that you’re here for many years to come,” said Ms Keogh to whoops and cheers from the audience.

Monday marked the first day of the HSE’s National Breastfeeding Week which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother through more than 125 events being held around the country.

The Institute of Public Health in Ireland reported last year that breastfeeding rates in the Republic and Northern Ireland were slowly growing and that between 2006 and 2015 the percentage of women breastfeeding when discharged from hospital rose from 49 per cent to 58 per cent. The report warned that breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland were lower than in the Republic and that the gap was increasing. Some 35 per cent of babies in the State continue to receive breastmilk at three months, according to the HSE.