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.