The theme for the week, which is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, is “A Key to Sustainable Development” – highlighting how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about valuing wellbeing from the very start of life, respecting each other, caring for the world we share and making best use of our resources.
Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Lead for the PHA, said: “From the moment a mother starts to breastfeed, both baby and mum will begin to feel the benefits to their health and wellbeing.
“Research shows that breastfed babies statistically tend to be healthier than bottle-fed babies and have a generally lower risk of ear, chest, stomach, kidney and urinary infections. They also have a lower risk of allergies, type 2 diabetes, obesity, childhood cancers and sudden infant death (cot death). Mums who breastfeed are at lower risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis.”
Despite having made real progress over the years and an increased awareness of the importance of breastfeeding, Northern Ireland still has the lowest breastfeeding rates in UK and one of the lowest in Europe. Approximately 64% of mothers here start breastfeeding, compared with 83% in England, 74% in Scotland and 71% in Wales. That figure falls to 33% of mothers breastfeeding at six weeks and 16% at six months.
Janet continued: “For many mums we know getting started isn’t easy and that’s why support is crucial. Support is essential both at the beginning and in sustaining breastfeeding. Creating that supportive environment is something that we all play an active part in building, including making mums feel more comfortable about feeding in public as we know this is something that many mums are apprehensive about.
“A mum breastfeeding is normal, no matter where it happens, and this is something that World Breastfeeding Week is highlighting through its focus on respect for each other.”
To help show community support for breastfeeding mums, the PHA created the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme. Over 400 businesses, council facilities and popular tourist attractions have signed up to the initiative to show their support for breastfeeding mums.
The venues – a list of which can be found at www.breastfedbabies.org – have pledged to welcome breastfeeding mothers and agreed to display a pink sticker and certificate which shows that they are members of the scheme, with staff at the premises trained to be supportive of mothers on the premises.
In the last year, Parliament Buildings (the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont), Belfast International Airport, and Ards and North Down Borough Council have become notable new members of Breastfeeding Welcome Here.
The Department of Health strategy ‘Breastfeeding – A Great Start a Strategy for Northern Ireland 2013-2023’ includes key strategic outcomes which state that: “Supportive environments for breastfeeding exist throughout Northern Ireland” and “Government Departments and statutory bodies recognise the value of breastfeeding”.
The PHA also coordinates the successful Breastfeeding Peer Support Volunteers programme. Volunteers are women who have breastfed their own children and who, with specialised training, can provide mum-to-mum support to women who are breastfeeding. Details of local breastfeeding peer support can be obtained from midwives and health visitors.
Mother-to-mother support is also available from local breastfeeding support groups, details of which can also be found on www.breastfedbabies.org, where there is also information for partners and families who can offer support to mothers.
Information, especially for dads, is also available, highlighting what they need to know about breastfeeding and offering practical advice and tips on how they can help their partner. The PHA has also produced a leaflet on breastfeeding support for grandparents as they can make a real difference to helping mums continue with breastfeeding.