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Healthy babies are the country’s future wealth and their mothers need government support

Published: Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The National Women’s Council (NWCI) and Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland (BFLGI, to mark World Breastfeeding Week August 1-7, call on the government to take the lead in support for babies and their mothers as a public health investment in the future. This call is endorsed by the grassroots campaign group Bainne Beatha.

Fewer than 6% of babies in Ireland are exclusively breastfed at 6 months versus the European average of 25% and WHO’s target to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50% by 2025.

This year World Breastfeeding Week has the theme of “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility” recognising that increasing breastfeeding rates is not the sole responsibility of the health services or individual women and families. Breastfeeding provides a healthy, practical, sustainable and natural source of nutrition which protects the child’s right to the highest standard of health as well as benefiting the mother’s health and wellbeing.

Supporting breastfeeding helps Ireland on its path to achieving all of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Baby Feeding Law Group of Ireland together with the National Women’s Council call for a collective social responsibility to create an empowering environment that removes barriers and enables breastfeeding to start and to continue so as to contribute to healthy people in a healthy world.

To mark World Breastfeeding Week, the organisations are calling for Government to prioritise a series of actions in order to safeguard and promote the health of the next generation:

  • Fully fund and implement the National Maternity Strategy and the National Breastfeeding Action Plan in Budget 2022. The Breastfeeding Action Plan sits within the National Maternity Strategy and in 2020 HIQA  called for a time bound and properly funded implementation plan. This must be a priority for Budget 2022.
  • Review and revise existing legislation on the marketing of infant formula to include protection for all infants and young children for the first 36 months and to include all items of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code) and its subsequent additions. This legislation needs to be policed and enforced.
  • Extend paid workplace breastfeeding breaks from 6 months to 2 years. Current legislation allows mothers time to breastfeed or pump at work until their baby is 6 months, however many women avail of maternity leave until their baby is 6 months old and can’t avail of these breaks on their return to the workplace. Minister O’Gorman’s proposed legislation sends a powerful signal that continued breastfeeding is important and valued by society. This proposed extension of lactation breaks would bring legislation in line with the Department of Health’s, and global health, guidance to support breastfeeding into the child’s second year. We call on the government to implement this proposed legislation.

 Dr. Sarah Brennan, GP and BFLGI member:

“Aggressive advertising and marketing of breast milk substitutes or formulae by industry influences parents, health workers and policy makers to believe that the products are nearly similar to mother’s milk without acknowledging or explaining the health risks, economic burden and environmental impact of their use.

40 years ago ‘the Code’ was created because the international community agreed that infant feeding is too important to be subject to usual commercial practices. Protecting women, babies and families from industry influence by introducing and enforcing stricter marketing legislation of infant formula is an indisputable and effective way of boosting public health and the future health of the nation, to mark World Breastfeeding Week BFLGI and NWCI urge the government to amend, update and enforce the relevant legislation.”

Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator at the National Women’s Council added:

“Adjusting to motherhood can be a fraught and stressful time loaded with societal expectations around what good parenting is. We know that many women who want to breastfeed are not given the right help at the right time to support them in this and this can have significant consequences for both maternal health and child development. That is why we are calling on the Government to ensure that all women are supported to understand the benefits of breastfeeding and given the continuous care needed to enable this to happen. No woman should be expected to navigate what can be a challenging process on her own. “

Deborah Byrne, Bainne Beatha:

"Recent research by Bainne Beatha undertaken with almost 150 Irish mothers shows there is lack of advice and guidance given to women which can inhibit take up rates and contribute to early attrition. Some 37% of women reported that midwives seemed pro-breastfeeding but were too busy and overworked to provide the assistance needed, 1 in 3 were offered infant formula despite wishing to breastfeed, and only 1 in 4 mothers reached their feeding goals at the hospital and did not require any further support" 

For more information or to request an interview, please contact

Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator, NWC, Tel. 087 266 7214.

Dr. Sarah Brennan, General Practitioner and BFLGI Steering Group Member, Tel. 087 202 8791

Deborah Byrne, Founder, Bainne Beatha, Tel. 0860769375.

Note to Editors:

Further information about breastfeeding available here:

World Breastfeeding Week: https://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/

Sustainable Development Goals and Breastfeeding https://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/2016/pdf/BreastfeedingandSDGsMessaging%20WBW2016%20Shared.pdf.


About the organisations:

The National Women’s Council (NWC) 

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups nd a large and growing community of individual supporters.

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work. We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity.

Baby Feeding Law Group of 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.

While BFLGI’s primary aim is to protect breastfeeding, we do not seek to limit the accessibility of safe and appropriate infant formulae for those who need or want them. Rather, we want to enable parents to make informed decisions about how they feed their babies and eliminate industry influence on those decisions.

Bainne Beatha

Bainne Beatha is a grassroots campaign run by four mothers to improve Irish breastfeeding support services. We conducted an informal survey of mothers in 2020 to gauge the experience of breastfeeding for mothers in Ireland. Almost 150 mothers shared their stories, many of which highlighted significant gaps in breastfeeding support in Ireland.