Breastfeeding seminars

‘a safe, sustainable and climate-friendly resource’

Opinion: Breastfeeding makes all the difference between life and death for children around the world

By Mary McGrath, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Aisling Daly, TU Dublin

None of us need to be reminded that we are going through all kinds of crises in the world – warsfood crisis, pandemics, climate change. This is nothing new for millions of people around the world for whom things have come from worse.

The hardest hit are the youngest of the young and the smallest of the young. Almost 25 millions or one-fifth of babies under six months of age are malnourished worldwide, and almost 15% of babies were born too early or too small. These babies are at a much higher risk of death or poor growth and development. If we ever have a chance of achieving the 2030 global goal target To end world hunger, we must act now.

So what can we do? Imagine if an entrepreneur invented a food/fluid combo, tailor-made just for you, available 24/7. It had a responsive makeup, personalized immune support, and was sterile. It required no container, had no carbon footprint, and enveloped you in pleasant, satisfying warmth every time you took a sip. That’s breastfeeding in a nutshell: a safe, sustainable, climate friendly resource at hand.

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Excerpt from RTÉ Radio 1’s Today With Claire Byrne, interview with Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain, member of the Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland and mothers’ representative on the National Maternity Hospital Infant Feeding Steering Committee

Breastfeeding means the difference between life and death for children around the world. Intensification of breastfeeding practices could prevent 823,000 annual deaths, or 14% of deaths of children under two years of age. Exclusive breastfeeding – that is, no water, formula, or food – for infants under six months is especially critical, as non-exclusive feeding can reduce protection and introduce infection . Mothers and babies are a duo and a baby’s survival and nutrition are intimately linked to the nutrition and health of its mother.

Despite the evidence, the penny still hasn’t gone down. Breastfeeding is not a good “thing to do”; it is a need to do so. All mothers and babies will reap enormous benefits from breastfeeding, but there is so much more to gain and lose for babies who are born small or who are malnourished. They need urgent skilled care. Indeed, last October, during National Breastfeeding WeekPresident Michael D. Higgins asked “What keeps governments and policy makers from seeing that reclaiming and promoting breastfeeding could make one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, contributions to health, nutrition and child development?

At Nutrition 4 Growth Summit in Japan at the end of 2021396 new nutrition pledges were made by 78 countries in a critical last attempt to get back on track to achieve zero hunger by 2030. Ireland stood out for pledging to support approaches programming for the prevention and treatment of wasting with particular emphasis on combating wasting in infants under six months of age, supported by programs targeting infants and children who are short and nutritionally at risk.

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According to RTÉ Archives, George Devlin reports for RTÉ News on the annual La Leche League Ireland conference on breastfeeding in 1986

Ireland is already at the forefront of making this a reality in challenging contexts around the world. For many years Ireland has supported a “Warm support chain“, through the MAMI Global Network directed by Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN). Ireland has supported the development of MAMI care course package by this network, which integrates skilled breastfeeding counseling into the care of nutritionally small and at-risk infants under six months and their mothers.

Breastfeeding supports are not only needed for developing countries where emergencies or disasters “typically” occur, but all countries need protection and support systems in place. For example, the international community galvanized to protect breastfeeding mothers fleeing war in Ukraine, many of whom are now in Ireland.

A recent report by WHO/UNICEF shows the powerful marketing strategies into which infant formula companies invest billions, tugging at our emotional strings and subtly and effectively undermining breastfeeding worldwide. Ireland has recently offers innovative digital ad controls that could be a game-changer on that front. The research has Underline that breastfeeding support was not only already lacking, but got even worse during the Covid-19 restrictions.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime in October 2020, Nicola O’Byrne explains why Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe

Ireland now has funded research develop a Infant feeding in emergencies plan to ensure that all children and their mothers are protected and empowered to feed their infants throughout any emergency they may face in the future. This continues the warm chain of support for mothers around the world and here in Ireland.

World Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity for us to combine Ireland’s global leadership with strong progress at home. Let us ensure that Ireland is not a hostile or risky care environment for mothers born here, mothers moving here, mothers fleeing here. Many arrive on our shores stressed, fearful, uncertain with vulnerable babies. That they are welcomed with open arms and that they benefit from rapid and competent support so that we send them a truly warm Cead Mile Failte and don’t set them up for a Cead Mile Failure.

Mary McGrath is a doctoral student at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and technical director at Emergency Nutrition Network. Aisling Daly is a PhD student at the School of Biological Sciences at TU Dublin


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ