40 Years of the WHO Code

May 2021 was a momentous month for infant feeding in Ireland. 

BFLGI partnered with UNICEF Ireland to mark the 40th anniversary of the WHO Code with a social media campaign that explored the issues of protecting infant feeding from industry influence.

  • In support of that campaign, BFLGI member Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin explained the need for greater breastfeeding support and legislation of the WHO Code on Today with Claire Byrne on RTE Radio 1
  • The predatory marketing tactics of Cow&Gate towards new mothers made the front page of Sunday Times and highlighted the deep need for greater industry regulation. 
  • BFLGI joined the international infant feeding advocacy community for an online Global Breastfeeding Collective conference on May 21st to mark the 40th anniversary. Watch the conference HERE.

These short videos were shown during the Global Breastfeeding Collective conference and are powerful reminders of why the protection of infant feeding from industry influence is vital: 

Other positive developments in May 2021 included:

  • The welcome announcement of €1.58m funding for 24 additional lactation consultants in Ireland’s maternity units. BFLGI looks forward to seeing these posts filled as they will provide much needed specialised support for women who want to breastfeed. Read more HERE.
  • BFLGI also welcomed discussion about inadequate breastfeeding support at the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee with Cuidiu and Bainne Beatha presenting ‘on-the-ground’ perspectives of breastfeeding mothers. Watch back HERE.
  • BFLGI was very pleased with the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland’s and the Irish College of General Practitioners commitment to greater breastfeeding education of physicians and meetings, conferences and study days free of breastmilk substitute sponsorship.
  • BFLGI provided supporting information to assist Social Democrat Jennifer Whitmore in submitting a comprehensive  Dáil Motion calling on the government to support breastfeeding by fully funding and implementing the Breastfeeding Action Plan, as well as legislating for the WHO Code. Read the Motion HERE.
  • BFLGI and Bainne Beatha met with the National Women’s Council of Ireland to discuss the necessity for the full funding and implementation of the National Breastfeeding Action Plan alongside strengthened legislation to protect women and infants from predatory marketing tactics of the baby food industry. 
  • BFLGI member Mary Bird participated in The Breastfeeding Podcast hosted by the admins on a Facebook-based breastfeeding support group to discuss the 40th anniversary of the Code.

Unfortunately, despite these positive steps forward in May, the month of June started with disappointment at the appointment of a senior executive of infant formula company Danone to the public health promotion agency Safefood.

While not a direct breach of the Code, BFLGI UK explains why links with formula industry personnel and health personnel are problematic:

The WHO Code was created four decades ago in recognition that infant nutrition is so important that the normal business rules of advertising and marketing can not apply. BFLGI works to protect all infants, their parents, and health workers from inappropriate marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and to support breastfeeding. Irish legislation to enact the WHO Code and protect all babies regardless of how they are fed is long overdue. 

General Election, 2020

Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI) is an alliance of organisations and individuals working together to protect infant, young child and maternal health by ending marketing practices that commercialise infant feeding, mislead consumers and threaten breastfeeding.

In advance of the upcoming general election, BFLGI is interested in political parties’ proposed measures for strengthening legislation relevant to infant feeding. It appears that only four parties have made a comment in their manifestos that is directly related to infant feeding, though some parties have included comments on maternity/parental leave.

  • The Green Party have stated that they aim to improve “the long term immunity and health of the population of Ireland by increasing support, protection and promotion of breastfeeding in maternity, paediatric and community health care settings” and to “create family friendly policies within all structures of local government to provide access to maternity and paternity leave, affordable childcare and breastfeeding facilities to all participants.”
  • The Labour Party have stated that they “will support the development of services for breastfeeding mothers to both encourage and support mothers to breastfeed, with the aim of increasing the currently low rate of breastfeeding in Ireland.” The Labour Party also published a breastfeeding policy in 2017.
  • Fine Gael state that they support “the target of a 2% annual increase in the number of new mothers’ breastfeeding in maternity hospitals and primary care centres, with support from increased access to lactation specialists and public health nurses.” They have also said that they “will prioritise areas of social disadvantage and where there are low breastfeeding rates. For those wishing to extend breastfeeding beyond six months, Fine Gael supports the extension of paid breastfeeding/lactation breaks or paid reduction in working hours for breastfeeding mothers from 26 weeks to 104 weeks.”
  • The Social Democrats state that “investing in public health nursing will also allow for a much sharper focus on breast-feeding. We are keen to take a number of measures to support breastfeeding by ensuring maternity services are properly resourced to support new mothers, by extending entitlement to breaks to breast-feeding mothers, by requiring large workplaces to provide breast-feeding rooms and a small fridge for breast-feeding mothers who wish to pump, and by establishing a breast-milk bank in the Republic.”
  • Fianna Fáil have stated that they will “expand Maternity leave to 30 weeks” and “protect the first 14 weeks of leave as core maternity leave and 4 weeks as core paternity leave and allow parents to share the remainder of paid and unpaid leave as they choose.” BFLGI has concerns about the impact this proposal may have on the HSE’s recommendation that infants are exclusively breastfed for approximately the first 6 months.
  • Sinn Féin have said that one of their priorities is to deliver “an additional 26 weeks of maternity (or paternity) leave to enable a parent to be with their child for its first year of its life.”

To our knowledge, other parties have not mentioned infant feeding in their manifestos.

Could party representatives please comment or clarify where they stand on legislation relevant to infant feeding?