Galway has the highest breastfeeding rate among mothers recently discharged from hospital in the three western counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.
Some 58 per cent of local babies were breastfed on discharge from hospital while 39.6 per cent were breastfed exclusively.
That compares with 52 per cent of babies in Mayo being breastfed on discharge from hospital and 48.6 per cent in Roscommon.
Breastfeeding gives children a “vital start in life”, according to the HSE’s breastfeeding co-ordinator Siobhan Hourigan.
“Breastfeeding is important for babies’ growth, development and health, and reduces illness and infection. Information and assistance from health care professionals as well as practical and emotional support from family can help mothers of newborn babies starting to breastfeed.”
Speaking during National Breastfeeding Week which ran until Tuesday, she said every breastfeed makes a difference to babies’ health and brings mothers closer to their breastfeeding goals.
“The most recent figures show a marginal increase in the number of mothers breastfeeding on discharge from hospital. Breastfeeding rates have been gradually improving in Ireland. In 2011, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding (feeding only breastmilk ) exceeded rates of formula feeding for the first time and this trend continues. We are working to bring our breastfeeding rates in line with our European partners through initiatives at hospital and community level.”
Figures for 2012 showed that five out of 10 babies born in Ireland were being breastfed on leaving hospital. This compared with eight out of 10 in the UK. Across Europe on average nine out of every 10 babies born are breastfed with almost all babies born in Norway, Denmark and Sweden being breastfed. By three months, four in 10 babies in Ireland were breastfed.
Ms Hourigan said Ireland’s 19 maternity units participate in the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and implement the infant feeding policy for maternity and neonatal services.
“Currently eight of the 19 units have received an external assessment and are designated as Baby Friendly Hospitals. The BFHI was developed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF and is an internationally recognised designation.
“Mothers of premature babies may need extra support to provide breastmilk to their babies and this is provided by midwives at maternity wards and in special care baby units. Following discharge from maternity hospital support is provided to all mothers by public health nurses, through home visits and clinics.”
The HSE provides breastfeeding training to health care professionals, and an increasing number of health care professionals are qualifying as internationally board certified lactation consultants.
Information on breastfeeding is provided to pregnant women when they visit maternity hospitals and attend GP/practice nurse appointments.
Antenatal classes are offered to parents during pregnancy and these include information on breastfeeding. Information on breastfeeding and links to support are provided through the HSE website www.breastfeeding.ie and information resources include the leaflet “Breastfeeding a Good Start in Life”.
Breastfeeding protects the health of babies and their mothers and is important for healthy growth and development. It gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life and protects them against infection and disease.
Children who are not breastfed are more likely to develop:
§ ear, nose and throat infections,
§ gastroenteritis, kidney and chest infections,
§ obesity and diabetes
The first few days of breastfeeding provide antibodies that give natural immunity and protect baby from infection. There is a direct correlation between the duration of breastfeeding and protection against many illnesses and infections with greater protection provided the longer a mother breastfeeds.
Breastfeeding for the first month, for example, reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections by 27 per cent with every extra month of breastfeeding further reducing risk of illness from infections.
Any breastfeeding reduces risk of ear infection by 23 per cent with a risk reduction of 50 per cent if breastfeeding continues for three months. Breastfeeding is also associated with a 36 per cent reduction in risk of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death ) compared to not breastfeeding.