Policy & Strategy
Breastfeeding in Ireland: a Five Year Strategic Action Plan
The current Strategic Action Plan for Breastfeeding reflects the commitment of the Department of Health and Children (DOHC) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to the implementation of international and national breastfeeding strategies. It builds on the achievements of ‘A National Breastfeeding Policy for Ireland’ (DOHC, 1994).
- The International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes (WHO, 1981)
- The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (WHO, 1986)
- The Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding (WHO/UNICEF, 1990)
- World Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition (FAO/WHO, 1992)
- The WHO/EURO the First Action Plan for Food and Nutrition Policy (WHO/EURO, 2001)
- The WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (WHO/UNICEF, 2002)
- Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding in Europe: A Blueprint for Action (EU Project, 2004a)
- The Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (WHO, 2004a)
- International Labour Organisation (ILO), Convention 183 (ILO, 2000)
- Recommendations for a National Infant Feeding Policy (FSAI, 1999)
- Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (DOHC, 1999)
- National Health Strategy: Quality and Fairness – a Health System for You (DOHC, 2000a)
- The National Health Promotion Strategy 2000-2005 (DOHC, 2000b)
- The National Children’s Strategy – Our Children, Their Lives (DOHC, 2000)
- Investing in Parenthood: The Supporting Parents Strategy (Best Health for Children, 2002a)
- Travellers Health Strategy (DOHC, 2002b)
- Promoting Women’s Health: A Population Investment for Ireland’s Future (Women’s Health Council (WHC), 2002)
- Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-School Services (DOHC, 2004)
Between 1981 and 1991 the national incidence of breastfeeding on leaving hospital remained static at around 32%, and was recognised as very low by international standards (DOH, 1994). This, along with representations from various voluntary and professional groups such as the La Leche League of Ireland (LLL), Cuidiú- The Irish Childbirth Trust (ICT), the WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) and the Irish Nurse’s Organisation led the Department of Health in 1992 to establish a national committee with the brief to develop a national breastfeeding policy. The Policy that ensued (A National Breastfeeding Policy for Ireland, DOHC, 1994) detailed a series of recommendations and targets aimed at improving breastfeeding rates in Ireland. The recommendations in the 1994 Policy largely endorsed and advocated national implementation of many of the evidence-based international breastfeeding initiatives emanating from WHO and UNICEF.
Currently approximately 47% of mothers in Ireland are breastfeeding at discharge from maternity care (NPRS, 2008). Breastfeeding duration rate figures are not currently collected at national level, however, research studies indicate the fall-off in breastfeeding following discharge is worryingly high with less than 10% of infants still breastfeeding at 6 months of age.
A vast scientific literature demonstrates the substantial health, social and economic importance of breastfeeding and increasingly this research is demonstrating a dose response relationship strongly indicating that the health and nutritional advantages can be maximised by longer breastfeeding duration.
Thus, to exploit these health advantages the Health Service Executive, the Department of Health and Children recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first 6 months, after which mothers are recommended to continue breastfeeding, in combination with suitably nutritious and safe complementary foods until their children are 2 years of age or older.
The aim of the Ministerial-appointed expert group set up to formulate the current Strategic Action Plan was to continue the work begun with the 1994 Policy by drawing up evidence-based goals, objectives, actions and targets that will significantly increase the up-take and duration rates of breastfeeding for families in Ireland. The overarching public health goal for the entire Action Plan is the achievement of optimum health and well-being for babies, their mothers, families and communities.