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. 

Róisín Shortall TD meets with BFLGI for NBW2020

Social Democrats Leader Róisín Shortall TD plays peekaboo with a copy of “Why the Politics of Breastfeeding Matter,” a gift from Malvina Walsh and her baby Moya to mark National Breastfeeding Week.


Infant feeding advocacy group Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI) is celebrating National Breastfeeding Week by presenting copies of Gabrielle Palmer’s seminal book “Why the Politics of Breastfeeding Matter” to Irish politicians. Malvina Walsh, Co-Chair of BFLGI stated “Breastfeeding is a deeply political issue and this gesture is to highlight that women and babies have a right to be supported and protected in their infant feeding choices—and to encourage leading figures in public life to advocate for Irish families in this regard.”

The book explains how infant feeding is one of the most important global public health issues of our time, and describes how big business can influence feeding choice, health and the intimate relationship between mothers and their babies, be they rich or poor or whether they live in the developed or developing world.

“With just a few days to Budget 2021 we are calling on the government to support mothers and babies in Ireland by adequately funding the Breastfeeding Action Plan. There is widespread acknowledgement of the importance of breastfeeding for public health – particularly in a time of Covid-19. With prudent investment in breastfeeding support now the government will save money in the short and long term—it’s a political no-brainer” says Ms. Walsh.

Mal breastfeeding Moya

Social Democrat Leader Róisín Shortall agrees, “Now is the time for action on breastfeeding given the indisputable health and wellbeing benefits for both babies and mothers. Parents need practical support and encouragement, not only in maternity hospitals but also in the early days and weeks after they get home. Most of all the Government needs to fund the Breastfeeding Action Plan. When it comes to making political decisions about breastfeeding, everybody and nobody has responsibility so we need to see the Minister for Health championing that plan.”

BFLGI is asking the government to focus on three key areas to support and protect breastfeeding.

Firstly, to fully fund and implement the HSE Breastfeeding Action Plan, 2016-2021. This includes some key actions such as  raising the breastfeeding rates by 2% each year. Ireland is currently not reaching this target and there are aspects of the Plan that remain incomplete. For example, a 2017 report by the National Breastfeeding Implementation Group identified the need to recruit 100 full-time lactation consultants for maternity and community health organisations in line with international best practice but in 2019 just 3 new posts were sanctioned.

“The Programme for Government included a commitment to support breastfeeding and the recruitment of more lactation consultants  would be a very tangible demonstration of that commitment” says Ms. Walsh.

Secondly, to implement legislation for the full adoption of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions). Adopted in 1981 by WHO members, including Ireland, and more commonly known as the ‘WHO Code’ it is a set of recommendations for WHO’s Member States to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. The Code was created to stop irresponsible marketing practices by companies, particularly targeting healthcare workers. Ireland has failed to implement the Code substantially, scoring only 39 out of 100 in a recent implementation status report[1].

“Appropriate legislation would better protect Irish families from the considerable marketing efforts of companies making infant formula, baby foods and bottles” says Ms. Walsh

Thirdly, introduce lactation workplace rights as per the Department of Justice’s National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017- 2020.  “Countries like Norway that have strong breastfeeding cultures and high breastfeeding rates have maternity leave and lactation workplace rights that recognise the long-term value in supporting breastfeeding not only in the first year of a baby’s life, but all the way to the end of the second year, as per WHO guidelines. It’s time Ireland caught up” says Ms. Walsh.

[1] Marketing of breast milk substitutes: national implementation of the international code, status report 2020

President Michael D. Higgins meets with BFLGI to celebrate NBW2020

To celebrate National Breastfeeding Week, Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI) volunteer and TU Dublin Nutrition Lecturer Dr. Liz O’Sullivan and her daughter Áine meet President Michael D. Higgins to present a copy of “Why the Politics of Breastfeeding Matter” by Gabrielle Palmer. 

29/09/2020 NO REPRO FEE, MAXWELLS DUBLIN President Higgins welcomed Dr Liz O'Sullivan, from Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland, to Áras an Uachtaráin. Pic shows President Micheal D Higgins, Dr Liz O’Sullivan and her daughter Áine Somerville.
President Higgins and Sabina have been strong advocates in support of breastfeeding. Each year they have hosted events at Áras an Uachtaráin, to raise awareness of low rates of breastfeeding in Ireland and to try to increase them by offering more supports to mothers. Dr. Liz O’Sullivan presented the President with a copy of the book “Why the politics of breastfeeding matter.” PIC: NO FEE, MAXWELLS

Marking National Breastfeeding Week 2020, Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI) will also gift copies of the seminal book “Why the Politics of Breastfeeding Matter” by Gabrielle Palmer to politicians across all parties to highlight that Irish women and babies have a right to be supported and protected in their infant feeding choices—and to encourage politicians to advocate for Irish families in this regard.

The book explains how infant feeding is one of the most important global public health issues of our time, and describes how big business influences the intimate relationship between mothers and their babies to the detriment of all, rich or poor, in the developed or developing world.

BFLGI recognises that breastfeeding and infant feeding are deeply political issues and wants Irish politicians to grasp the depth of its importance, hence the gift of copies of the book to politicians across all parties.

During the visit with the President, TU Dublin academic and Lecturer in Nutrition, Dr. Liz O’Sullivan said “The Covid-19 pandemic has made everyone realise the importance of robust public health. Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and provides immediate and long-term immunological protection; increased breastfeeding rates would lead to lower obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes rates for women and their children. Breastfeeding can also protect against food poverty and social inequality.”

The theme of this year’s National Breastfeeding Week is ‘Breastfeeding in a time of Covid’ and events and campaigns throughout the week will draw attention to the need for better funding to protect and promote breastfeeding.

President Higgins and Sabina Higgins have been long-time breastfeeding supporters and advocates. During the meeting, President Higgins highlighted the fundamental importance of breastfeeding in strategies to meet many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, saying breastfeeding mothers should be supported. The President also spoke of the importance of providing readily available support and unbiased information about infant feeding.

The WHO, Department of Health and HSE recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond, along with complementary solid foods. Ireland’s breastfeeding rates consistently rank low internationally. Just 60% of newborn babies in Ireland receive any breast milk, and fewer than 50% are exclusively breastfeeding when discharged from the maternity hospital. These low rates increase the risk of respiratory illnesses, obesity, heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes in the Irish population.

“The WHO and UNICEF also recommend that all countries have National Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Plan, which Ireland unfortunately does not. Initial results from my research conducted in the last 6 months shows that having a plan in place would have made the response to the Covid-19 pandemic smoother for breastfeeding and formula-feeding families.” said Dr. O’Sullivan.

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?

Breastfeeding welcome everywhere


Breastfeeding welcome here? No thanks – Breastfeeding welcome everywhere!

Leading health advocate organisation denounces Danone’s attempt to make breastfeeding appear a niche activity. The Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI) is dismayed to see infant formula company Danone distribute “breastfeeding welcome here” signs to cafés and restaurants in Ireland.

Mothers are legally entitled to breastfeed in any public place in Ireland. This campaign is merely a marketing ploy aimed at creating brand loyalty for Danone products. Breastfeeding is welcome everywhere in Ireland; it is the law. Signage, from a commercial company involved in the production and distribution of infant formula, suggesting that breastfeeding is only welcome in some places is unnecessary. To do so implies that breastfeeding is less acceptable in public places than feeding with a bottle of artificial baby milk.

All mothers need to know that breastfeeding is normal and that they have a legal right to breastfeed, free from harassment, in any public place in Ireland. Women and their families can complain if a business owner fails to protect this right. The campaign could result in some mothers feeling that they are not allowed to breastfeed in premises that do not display the sticker. Similarly business owners may believe that protecting breastfeeding mothers is optional.

Infant feeding in Ireland

Ireland has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world while the global baby formula business is estimated to be worth $45 billion per year. Formula producers invest heavily in marketing tactics including the cynical embracing of breastfeeding and courting of health professionals.

Unbiased information

The World Health Organization (WHO) and HSE Breastfeeding Policy state that parents should receive infant feeding information from commercial-free sources. Support for breastfeeding should come from healthcare workers who should themselves receive unbiased education on infant feeding. Mary Higgins, Chairperson of BFLGI concludes: “We want to ensure that all parents have access to accurate information on infant feeding free from commercial influence. BFLGI does not accept that showing stickers in café windows is supportive of parents who are breastfeeding but instead provides a marketing opportunity for Danone.”

Statement  endorsed by IBFAN Ireland and Ethical Sponsorship Ireland


The Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland is an affiliate group made up of professional and voluntary organisations with an interest in infant and young child feeding.

Danone continues to market its follow-on milks and growing-up milks in contravention of the WHO code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. The World Health Organisation has stated that milks aimed at older babies are unnecessary products.

Formula manufacturers consistently imply that their products are just as good as breast milk by clever use of branding, advertising, sponsorship of events and by celebrity and professional endorsements. It is neither appropriate nor helpful for parents to be targeted by industry in this way and it is contrary to WHO guidelines.

Expectant and new mothers are asked to consider carefully why Danone, a global producer of infant formula brands, has decided to initiate this campaign and to reflect on the purpose of its wider First 1000 Days campaign. The First Thousand Days concept began from the research work of UK epidemiologist, David Barker who, three decades ago, identified the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood.   Many organisations worldwide, both altruistic and commercial, have utilised the 1000 days concept.

Mothers are legally entitled to breastfeed in any public place in Ireland.

Human rights and equality law http://www.ihrec.ie/your-rights/


Information on infant milks www.firststepsnutrition.org

Follow-on milks http://www.babymilkaction.org/archives/704 

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2816%2930599- 2/fulltext

https://www.savethechildren.nl/Uploaded_files/Publicaties/Superfood-for- Babies-Africa-

Impact of formula marketing on breastfeeding

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01044- 2/fulltext

WHO Code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes