Despite all the evidence that breastfeeding brings many benefits to mothers and children, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.
More than half of all newborn mothers want to breastfeed, but many stop fasting and less than a third of all mothers are still breastfeeding when their babies are six weeks old. Women reported feeling a lack of support and feeling anxious while eating in public. Mothers have the right to breastfeed their children anywhere, but we do not have special laws in NI to protect mothers who breastfeed in public.
Creating a “supportive environment” is one way we, as a society, can help new mothers feed the way they want to. To raise public awareness of breastfeeding and encourage mothers to eat safely in the community, the Public Health Agency (PHA) Breastfeeding Welcome Here Program was introduced in 2005.
Its newest member, Translink, has joined more than 800 program members who support mothers and help normalize breastfeeding. Making it easier for mums, especially in the first few days, is vital.
Successful breastfeeding is a collective responsibility and It is not considered the responsibility of the mother alone. Many women feel guilt and regret if they do not achieve their nutritional goals, but the ability to breastfeed shapes their environment.
Governments and society have a broader responsibility to support women through existing policies and programs in society.
In May, we urge the new National Institutes Executive Director to urge the new Minister of Health to honor previous executive pledges to enact legislation to promote and protect breastfeeding, even from harsh predatory marketing formula that undermines confidence in breastfeeding.
Northern Ireland has taken positive steps to improve breastfeeding support, including through the PHA programme, as well as to increase community and personal support online.
According to Bella Baby, Armagh, Belfast and Derry hit the UK’s 10 most breastfeeding friendly cities this week. While this is great news, there are still gaps and inconsistencies in breastfeeding support in the UK and the Covid pandemic has shattered much public support and further isolated the new mother.
Scotland and England have made significant new investments in breastfeeding support, but Northern Ireland has not seen the same levels of investment, although it should have moved forward.
Led by our mother, this unique and award-winning Breast Festival aims to support, normalize and celebrate breastfeeding as part of everyday life. We work closely with other organizations and individuals in Northern Ireland to normalize breastfeeding. These include BirthWise, Anticipation and Root Causes for New Fathers, and Code Monitoring NI, a group of parents and professionals concerned with the unethical marketing of breastmilk substitutes in Northern Ireland.
We look forward to working closely with the future Executive and the Assembly to take urgent action by recognizing breastfeeding as a foundation for end-of-life health and the crucial first years of a child’s life.
If you would like to see improvements in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, download the Breast Advocacy Toolkit by clicking here.
Claire Flynn is a member of the Breastival Board of Directors and oversees the organization’s policy, advocacy and communications work.
To find out more about our work, visit www.breastival.co.uk and follow us on Twitter @BreastivalNI.