Northern Ireland breastfeeding rates increasing but widening gap between North and South
Attitudes towards breastfeeding improving but women in Northern Ireland least likely across UK to breastfeed in public
A new all-island report published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) highlights that although breastfeeding rates are increasing in Northern Ireland (NI), NI continues to have the lowest rate of breastfeeding within the UK and the gap in breastfeeding rates between North and South on the island is widening.
IPH Public Health Development Officer, Dr Joanna Purdy, explained that the report – Breastfeeding on the island of Ireland – highlights that for babies born in 2014/15:
· 45% were breastfeeding at discharge from hospital;
· 35% at the first Health Visitor visit;
· 27% at six weeks;
· 21% at three months;
· 13% at six months;
· 7% at 12 months.
The data for 2015 shows that 45% of infants in NI were receiving any breastmilk at discharge from hospital – an increase of five percentage points over the last decade, compared to a nine point rise in the Republic of Ireland over the same period, from 49% to 58%.
“Rates of starting breastfeeding have increased over the island of Ireland in the last ten years although Northern Ireland was starting from a lower point than the Republic and the gap between North and South is widening. However, across the island there is a steep decline in breastfeeding in the early weeks after birth,” Dr Joanna Purdy said.
Dr Purdy explained that these rates of breastfeeding matter because breastfeeding makes a significant contribution to population health by protecting infant health and contributing to maternal health. Research published in the eminent medical publication, The Lancet, last year, estimated that, globally, over 22,000 children’s lives could be saved each year if breastfeeding maintenance was significantly increased from present levels, while 20,000 deaths from breast cancer could be prevented.
Dr Joanna Purdy commented: “Northern Ireland is leading the way on the island in systematically assessing attitudes and beliefs about breastfeeding in the general population. This tells us that our society is slowly becoming more welcoming and appreciative of breastfeeding, but we still have a long way to go. In this context, it’s worth noting that the 2010 UK Infant Feeding Survey indicated that 63% of NI mothers who stopped breastfeeding during the survey period reported that they would have liked to have breastfed longer. In addition, our report shows that women in NI were the least likely across the UK to breastfeed in public.”
Dr Purdy said that older mothers and those in the highest socio-economic groups are the most likely to initiate breastfeeding and to continue with it.
“Breastfeeding at discharge from hospital was twice as common in the least deprived areas when compared to the most deprived areas. Likewise, breastfeeding initiation rates amongst younger mothers were persistently low, so it’s clear that significant inequalities exist in relation to breastfeeding initiation and duration.”
The report highlighted that society as a whole must continue to focus on how we create a more breastfeeding supportive environment to improve initiation and duration of breastfeeding. In this context, Dr Joanna Purdy added that breastfeeding is a collective responsibility which bestows shared rewards on our children, their mothers and wider society.
“Creating environments and communities where women feel supported and empowered to both start and maintain breastfeeding is essential.”
Notes to Editors
The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) is an all-island body which supports cooperation on public health North and South to promote collective action for sustained improvements in health with a particular focus on addressing health inequalities.
Key messages from ‘Breastfeeding on the island of Ireland’
· Breastfeeding can make a significant contribution to population health by improving health outcomes for both mother and child.
· Breastfeeding rates in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have increased slowly over the last ten years. Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of breastfeeding within the UK.
· Breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland are lower than those of the Republic of Ireland and the gap has increased over time.
· In 2015, the National Perinatal Reporting System recorded that 58% of babies in the Republic of Ireland were receiving any breastmilk on discharge from hospital. The Health Service Executive recorded that 35% of babies were receiving some breastmilk at three months.
· In 2015/16, the Northern Ireland Child Health System recorded that 46% of babies were receiving any breastmilk on discharge from hospital. 21% of babies were receiving some breastmilk at three months.
· Younger mothers and those living with socio-economic disadvantage were less likely to breastfeed in both jurisdictions. Older mothers and those in the highest socio-economic groups are the most likely to initiate breastfeeding and to continue with it.
· Data from Northern Ireland suggests that public attitudes and perceptions relating to breastfeeding are improving. Creating a supportive breastfeeding environment across the island is a shared challenge and forms the focus of strategies/action plans in both jurisdictions.
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If you would like to play your part to support breastfeeding in Northern Ireland
- PHA advice on breastfeeding and returning to work – http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/Breastfeeding_Return_To_Work_03_17.pdf
- Fathers to be and fathers - http://www.mhfi.org/dadsandbreastfeeding.pdf
- Grandparents - http://www.setrust.hscni.net/pdf/Grandparents_Guide_to_Breastfeeding_Leaflet_05_13.pdf
- For information on breastfeeding support groups operating in Northern Ireland – https://www.breastfedbabies.org/locations