Latching on at Áras an Uachtaráin

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.

BFLGI member Elaine Uí Ghearáin meeting Mrs. Sabina Higgins

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!

Feeding the Future: Shared Responsibility

Ahead of National Breastfeeding Week 2022 we are remembering last year’s event to mark the occasion.

Our joint event with the National Women’s Council of Ireland featured a passionate and moving keynote speech delivered by President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins and Mrs Sabina Higgins.

You can watch President Higgins speech HERE

Or watch the entire webinar back HERE

Hosted by Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, with panelists:

• Laura McHugh, HSE National Breastfeeding Coordinator

• Prof. Gerard Hastings OBE, Professor Emeritus Stirling University, author of the research paper ‘Selling Second Best – How Infant Formula Marketing Works’

• Dr Meredith Kinoshita, Paediatric and Neonatal Specialist Registrar, lead author of Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Breastfeeding Position Paper of 2021

• Deborah Byrne, Bainne Beatha and new mother who will speak about her recent experience of breastfeeding in Ireland

• Orla O’Connor, Director of National Women’s Council

• Dr Liz O’Sullivan, Dietitian and Nutrition Researcher TU Dublin and member of Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill progresses

Great to watch the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill debated in the Dáil last week and progress to Select Committee Stage.

Imelda Munster TD summed it up nicely saying “Protecting our children from advertising by multi billion global corporations is the least we can do as legislators”.

You can watch the debate HERE Minister Catherine Martin begins the Second Stage debates from 07:08:45

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's_bottle_feed.pd

Information on infant milks

Follow-on milks 2/fulltext Babies-Africa-

Impact of formula marketing on breastfeeding 2/fulltext

WHO Code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes