Latest figures show an increase in breastfeeding initiation rates

To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, August 1st – 7th, The Rotunda Hospital is celebrating a welcomed increase in breastfeeding initiation rates. Figures for 2017 reveal that the rate of new mothers breastfeeding following delivery at the hospital was the highest so far this century, with 73% initiating breastfeeding.

Commenting on this reassuring and positive step in the right direction, Master of The Rotunda Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone said: “The Rotunda Hospital recommends breastfeeding because it is the best start in life for babies and is encouraging new mothers who might be experiencing any difficulties at home to contact the hospital’s experienced lactation midwives. Some mothers find it difficult to establish a successful breastfeeding routine for a number of different reasons but with additional help, support and encouragement a number of these difficulties can be overcome.”

The Hospital is attributing this slow but steady increase in the number of mothers initiating breastfeeding to improved awareness and education and initial support from hospital staff.

However, despite this increase, the percentage of mothers breastfeeding declines steeply within the first few weeks of a baby’s life, before breastfeeding is fully established. Professor Malone believes that his own hospital and all the maternity hospitals in the country have a crucial role to play in those first few weeks by offering women excellent post-natal support and guidance. He said that, “Ireland has a long way to go in boosting the long term rate of breastfeeding and while this is the responsibility of the maternity hospitals, it is also the responsibility of society as a whole.”

Some of the main reasons given for not continuing to breastfeed following the first few days and weeks include insufficient milk supply; fatigue; difficulty with breastfeeding technique; nipple pain and poor latch; lack of freedom; return to work; not wanting to breastfeed and embarrassment as a result of negative societal attitudes towards breastfeeding.

These reasons outlined highlight the need in Maternity Hospitals for evidence based intervention regarding education, counselling and support programmes. These include antenatal, intrapartum and extended postnatal period in order to improve breastfeeding rates in Ireland. Unicef/WHO/BFI (Baby-friendly Initiative) structured programmes in hospitals, early mother and baby skin to skin contact, rooming in and avoidance of supplementation have been shown to be effective.

Also the roles for dads, partners, family members and society in general have in helping a new mother on her breastfeeding journey.

For example, Dads, partners, friends and family can help breastfeeding mums by:

  • Giving encouragement and support;
  • Preparing drinks, snacks and meals. When dad returns to work, he can help mum by leaving out breakfast, water and other essentials she might need;
  • Assisting with bathing and nappy changing;
  • Helping out with housework, laundry, grocery shopping and cooking;
  • Minding and entertaining older children; and knowing where to get breastfeeding information and support.
Breastfeeding facts and stats:
  • Children who do not breastfeed have a higher incidence and severity of many illnesses including respiratory tract and urinary tract infection, gastroenteritis, otitis media, diabetes, SIDS, and childhood cancers.
  • Breastfeeding is a protective factor against obesity in children. The protective role of breastfeeding extends beyond childhood and prevents chronic diseases in adulthood including diabetes.
  • It reduces risk of Type 1 and 2 diabetes.
  • It reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes.
  • It is vital in preventing Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) in preterm infants, which is associated with increased morbidity and mortality and neurodevelopmental impairment.

Rotunda Hospital patients are encouraged to attend free breastfeeding workshops on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during pregnancy from 28 weeks onwards, early booking is advisable as places are limited. All Rotunda midwives are trained for supporting new breastfeeding mothers in the early days. Lactation specialists are available by referral and for breastfeeding support following discharge.

References: Health Research Board (HRB) / Breastfeeding in healthy Ireland / *Victora et Al, 2016, The Lancet