BFLGI was honoured to be invited to speak at Mrs. Higgins’ annual ‘Latching On’ event to mark National Breastfeeding Week and to highlight the recent progress in supporting and protecting breastfeeding and infant feeding.
Mrs. Higgins spoke of the need of greater support for women postnatally to establish breastfeeding and for greater regulations to counter the manipulative marketing of the baby food industry which undermines breastfeeding and good health.
Watch Mrs. Sabina Higgins full speech HERE
Elaine Uí Ghearáin spoke about BFLGI’s work and the need for full legislation and implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
Dia dhaoibh go léir agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht na héisteachta ar maidin.
My name is Elaine Uí Ghéaráin and I am a member of Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland.
I am delighted to be here this morning in a room full of people who care about breastfeeding and infant feeding as much as I do.
For those of you aren’t familiar with Baby Feeding Law Group and our work, we are an alliance of organisations and individuals working together to advocate for policies which protect the right to good health of all infants, young children, mothers, parents, and families, by addressing practices that commercialise infant and young child feeding, threaten breastfeeding and undermine good health.
Like many here this morning, I became interested in the importance of supporting and protecting breastfeeding while breastfeeding my own three children. About nine years ago, when faced with the dreaded “return to work” I joined a small online peer-support group ‘Extended Breastfeeding in Ireland’ or EBI. That same group has grown to nearly 25,000 members and has evolved over the years to accommodate new parents as well as dyads at all stages of their breastfeeding journeys, who benefit from the wealth of knowledge and experience present in the group, even at three in the morning!
I am a member of the EBI admin team (around my day-job as a second-level music teacher) and it is an exceptional group of volunteers behind the scenes, many of whom also work with Cuidiú, La Leche League and Friends of Breastfeeding, and believe that providing day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour support, as well as a sense of community to mothers who want to breastfeed is crucial to them achieving their goals.
The more I became involved in breastfeeding support and the more stories I heard and read, the more I realised that deeper societal change is needed to protect breastfeeding and infant feeding from commercial interests that see the vulnerable periods of pregnancy, birth and early childhood as opportunities to make money.
I became a member of BFLGI to see if I could help make some of those changes happen. Other members include people from backgrounds in medicine, nursing, dietetics and public health as well as representatives from the wonderful national organisations represented here today such as ALCI, Cuidiú, Friends of Breastfeeding and La Leche League.
Ultimately BFLGI wants full legislation and implementation of the Code – or the Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes to give it its proper title – in Irish and EU legislation.
“The Code”, is a landmark public health agreement passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981 to protect parents from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry. In recent months Unicef, and the World Health Organisation have reported the true extent to which the manipulative and invasive online tactics used by formula milk companies are contributing to parents’ feeding anxieties and impacting choices.
Those UNICEF and WHO reports call for urgent action to regulate the advertising of commercial milk formulae and we are making progress.
There is growing recognition of the need for better breastfeeding support at government level and many positive recent developments such as the commitment to hire more lactation consultants, legislation for lactation breaks and the adoption of the Code within HSE policy.
BFLGI are really heartened by recent legislative developments which will see greater regulation of infant and follow-on formulae by the forthcoming Coimisiún na Meán (the Media Commission) thanks to the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill which is currently progressing through the Oireachtas.
BFLGI has spent a lot of time in the past few months advocating for the inclusion of amendments specifically naming infant and follow on formulae, and Minister Catherine Martin is to be commended for taking this positive step.
I’d like to take the opportunity to sincerely thank Mrs. Sabina Higgins and President Higgins for inviting BFLGI here this morning, for their ongoing support in continually helping to raise the issue of breastfeeding and infant feeding protection.
Back in 2019 when Mrs. Higgins attended a screening of the film Tigers in the Lighthouse Cinema about Nestle whistleblower Syed Aamir Raza, Mrs Higgins commended Syed for his courage. Her words and presence at the event were inspiring and empowering and undoubtedly gave courage to many in attendance to get more involved in protecting infant feeding.
Since then we have seen continued work and representation from the HSE staff such as Laura McHugh on the National Breastfeeding Action plan and other key interventions to advocate for Code related matters, courageous Irish journalism tackling what’s at play on this island and voices like Bainne Beatha bringing new energy and evidence to the table. We have also seen the ICGP and INMO both cease the carrying of formula ads in their membership magazines and BFLGI expects other organisations to soon follow suit.
Mrs. Sabina Higgins and President Higgins’ informed, thoughtful and passionate contributions not only raise the profile of the issue but also raise the spirits of infant feeding advocates in Ireland and around the world.
Last year for National Breastfeeding Week BFLGI and the National Women’s Council of Ireland co-hosted a webinar called Feeding the Future and Mrs. Higgins and President Higgins made a fantastic shared keynote speech that eloquently argued the importance of breastfeeding for social justice, equality and sustainability.
La Leche League International shared the speech with their leaders in over 80 countries and commenting on President Higgins’ speech one leader said “I cried at the seriousness with which he understood and joined our cause”.
So, a year later, it is a real honour to be with you all, in person, in the Áras marking National Breastfeeding Week. It is a privilege to work with you all, indirectly, on such an important shared cause and I look forward to seeing what else we can achieve by working together in the coming year.
Go raibh maith agaibh!