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.
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.
“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.
 Marketing of breast milk substitutes: national implementation of the international code, status report 2020