It’s a dilemma every mother of a new-born faces. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed?
Of course, not every mother is physically able or in a position to breastfeed her child. Some find it too painful; others lack the confidence or support necessary; and still others simply find it more convenient to bottle-feed their child.
But for those who wish to breastfeed, World Breastfeeding Week - which takes place from Aug 1 to 7 this year - aims to promote and encourage the practice.
In comparison with other countries, Ireland has traditionally had a very poor record of breastfeeding. The Growing up in Ireland Study, published in 2015, found that a total of 56 per cent of mothers breastfed their child, while in Europe the figure was 90 per cent.
In fact, we have the lowest rate in the world according to recent studies and the reasons for this are still unclear.
The latest research by the HSE show that 56.8 per cent of Irish mothers were breastfeeding their children when they left hospital in 2016, which is slightly down on 2015 when the figures were 58 per cent.
Last year, a total of 38.8 per cent of those were still breastfeeding three months later and figures for those breastfeeding at six months and beyond do not currently exist.
“The message from the World Health Organisation is to encourage women to breast feed for at least the first six months and preferably up to two years,” says Siobhan Hourigan, the National Breastfeeding Co-Coordinator at the HSE.
“The HSE also has a new breast-feeding action plan which aims to increase the number by 2 per cent annually,” she adds, pointing out that there are numerous benefits for both mother and child.
“Breast milk is a fantastic source of nutrition for the child,” she says. “It not only aids their growth and development, but contains anti-bodies which protect them against a wide range of diseases. Studies have shown that it helps brain development and it’s easy for a baby’s little stomach to digest.”
Research has shown that infants who are not breastfed, are at greater risk of developing respiratory, nose and throat infections. Later in life, they are more prone to diabetes and obesity.
What’s more, there is less risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in babies that are breastfed. And breast milk is said to prevent infection in babies that are premature as it protects against the gut infection NEC – a disease which affects the intestine of premature infants and can prove fatal.
Breastfeeding is not only good for the child. It is also highly beneficial to the mother. “Studies have shown that women who breast feed are less likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes, later in life” says Siobhan.
Many women struggle to breastfeed their child at first and it is for this reason that breastfeeding.ie – an HSE-supported website offers online lactation consultations which give advice and support to mothers.
There are also over 300 breastfeeding clinics around the country which can be attended, as well as public health nurses and support groups such as Friends of Breastfeeding where mothers can meet others in the same situation.
“Breastfeeding can be time consuming with the baby often feeding up to 10 to 12 times a day,” explains Siobhan. “Mothers need support at this time, usually from their partner and close family members. But of course, not every woman has that support and in such a case it helps if they access any of the above support networks on breastfeeding.ie.
“At the end of the day, breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your child – and for yourself as a mother,” she adds. “Luckily these days there is a lot of support out there if you chose to access it.”
Visit: www.breastfeeding.ie for more information