Limerick mothers ignoring “breast is best” message

Professor Roy K Philip

THE NUMBER of babies being breastfed in Ireland is the lowest in the world, according to a University Hospital Limerick Group consultant who wants to see that score improved on.  

National breastfeeding week runs until this weekend, aiming to promote breastfeeding across the country.

Consultant neonatologist Professor Roy K Philip says that “in the Mid West, 61.4per cent of live births in 2020 initiated breastfeeding. The rate in Scandinavian countries is consistently over 90 per cent”.

“I’m not saying we can immediately be like Scandinavia. But achieving that rate should be our mission.”

Following publication of his research in the peer-reviewed academic journal Maternal and Child Nutrition, Prof Philip spoke of his research into 20 years of birth data from University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL).

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Prof Philip’s research explored the reasons behind low breastfeeding rates in the region and proposed ten priority national actions to increase rates.

Prof Philip and his colleagues explored the challenges arising from the failure of national public health awareness campaigns to achieve targets, despite the ample evidence they present of the numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for the infant, mother, society, and environment.

“Around the world, the norm is when a baby is born, the majority of mothers decide to feed the baby themselves. One reason for that is it’s the most natural and species-specific feeding for a newborn infant,” Prof Philip suggested.

“Of all the studies undertaken, there is no study that states formula feeding is better than breastfeeding.

“For the infant, breast milk reduces respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, protects the child from exaggerated weight gain, and reduces various maternal morbidities.

“Increasingly important these days, it’s also good for the environment: it’s the most ‘green’ feeding strategy available,” he added.

Prof Philip’s research found issues driving mothers away from breastfeeding include the negative social perception and acceptance and the fear of personnel embarrassment.

Researchers also found that general national cultural attitudes have also negatively influenced breastfeeding among mothers of immigrant populations – for whom exclusive breastfeeding is often the norm.

Challenges were also identified in the free availability of formula feeds in hospitals immediately after birth, as well as the lack of breastfeeding advertisements, and deficits in prenatal and antenatal educational support that contribute to lack of consistency in training, and conflicting advice.

Prof Philip’s priorities are extending the entitlements to supports for breastfeeding mothers returning to work to two years, running breastfeeding awareness and observation into primary and secondary education curriculums, setting up a human milk donor bank in Ireland and running a state-funded advertising campaign for breastfeeding.