The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (NBAW) to emphasise the message that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both you and your baby and that by deciding to breastfeed, you will be giving your child the best possible start in life.
NBAW runs from 19-25 June and highlights the fact that any period of breastfeeding, however short, will benefit your baby.
Breast milk is different to formula milk as it contains antibodies that cannot be manufactured in formula. Antibodies help protect babies from infection and stimulate their immune system.
Northern Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the UK, with an average of 63% of women breastfeeding their baby at birth. Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator at the PHA, said: “This is an issue that clearly needs addressed, as breastfeeding has many important health benefits for both mother and baby. These include a reduced risk of ear, chest, kidney and stomach infections and less risk of childhood diabetes and obesity.
“Breastfeeding can also significantly reduce the risk of hospital admission of children for gastroenteritis and chest infections. The health benefits for mothers who choose to breastfeed include a reduced risk of developing illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.”
There are other benefits as well as those to your health. Breastfeeding is free – you don’t have to buy formula, bottles, teats, sterilising equipment etc. Breast milk is always available, with the right ingredients, at the right temperature, so it’s easier to feed at night or on the go.
The PHA recognises the importance of breastfeeding to health and the need to ensure that mothers get off to a good start with breastfeeding. It is vital that mothers get the right support and encouragement from their family and friends should they decide to breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be difficult at the start and mothers need reassurance while they learn.
“There are many local initiatives in the community to improve breastfeeding support. These include improving support in the health service and through Sure Start programmes, which work in areas of need to help ensure children get the best start in life,” Janet added.
“Mother to mother peer support programmes are in place in many areas and are working with expectant and new mothers to help them breastfeed for longer. There are also 70 breastfeeding support groups, which provide ongoing support for breastfeeding mothers throughout Northern Ireland.
“The PHA is also working to improve attitudes to breastfeeding in public through the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme, which began in 2005 and now has over 200 businesses and public facilities signed up to support and welcome breastfeeding families. All these initiatives, along with support from partners and family, are vital to help expectant and new mothers stay with breastfeeding.”
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “There is clear evidence that breastfeeding offers health benefits for both babies and mothers. We know that breast milk gives baby the best start in life by providing all the nutrients and protection a baby needs for the first six months of life. That is why my Department is committed to promoting and supporting breastfeeding”.
For further information on breastfeeding visit www.breastfedbabies.org.uk
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
Janet Calvert will be available for interview during NBAW. Please phone PHA Press Office to arrange interview.