The Public Health Agency (PHA) says that support for breastfeeding has grown, with rates of breastfeeding at birth increasing from 36% to 64% over the past two decades. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August), is a time to look back and learn from successes and use this progress to plan future support for women who want to breastfeed.
Janet Calvert, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager and Lead for Breastfeeding with the PHA, said: “Breastfeeding gives a child the best possible start in life and babies have better protection against certain illnesses the longer breastfeeding continues.
“World Breastfeeding Week is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, in this time, many initiatives have been undertaken in Northern Ireland to improve breastfeeding rates. The PHA is supporting a multi-faceted approach to breastfeeding promotion and support as recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) which includes the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, peer support, training of health professionals and targeted interventions for those least likely to breastfeed.”
Speaking about the Baby Friendly Initiative Janet said: “Based on provisional birth data for 2011, the proportion of babies born in Baby Friendly hospitals in Northern Ireland is 55%. This level is encouraging and mothers can rightly expect improved standards of support for breastfeeding in these hospitals. The Baby Friendly standard also means that all expectant and new mothers are offered information and support and the opportunity to care for their babies in a Baby Friendly way.”
In addition, the PHA is working to improve attitudes to breastfeeding in the public through the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme, which began in 2005, and now has over 300 businesses and public facilities signed up to support and welcome breastfeeding families.
Janet continued: “Once you’ve made the decision to breastfeed your baby, whether or not you feel comfortable with breastfeeding in public can make an enormous difference to your quality of life. It can be daunting enough to get out and about with a new baby, but the added pressure of finding a place where you can feel welcome to breastfeed can prevent some mums from breastfeeding for longer periods of time. This scheme helps mums to continue breastfeeding by identifying premises across Northern Ireland that welcome mothers who wish to breastfeed in public.”
Mother-to-mother peer support programmes are also 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.
Janet concluded: “We have seen an encouraging increase in the percentage of mothers who breastfeed in Northern Ireland, with rates of breastfeeding at birth increasing from 36% in 1990 to 64% in 2010. However, we also know that we need to do more to make sure that the environment is made supportive for breastfeeding, from before a baby is born right through the early years. The figures also indicate that we need to target breastfeeding support to improve our lower breastfeeding rates in some groups such as young mothers and women on lower incomes, as figures suggest that twice as many mothers over the age of 20 will breastfeed compared with those under age 20. The PHA welcomes the current consultation on the DHSSPS Ten Year Breastfeeding Strategy for Northern Ireland that will aim to increase breastfeeding rates.”
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