Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Healthcare Policy

9:30 am

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and pass on the apologies of the Minister for Health, who could not be here to take this Commencement matter. The response I have been given focused on the title, which was around breastfeeding facilities specifically, but I take on board the Senator's point on the importance of ensuring we have those facilities for men or women who are feeding children, baby changing facilities, and the rest.

Encouraging mothers to breastfeed is a priority for both the Department of Health and the HSE. National health policy, including the Healthy Ireland framework, Healthy Ireland strategic action plan, national maternity strategy, the obesity policy and action plan and the national cancer strategy, emphasises the importance of supporting mothers who breastfeed, as well as taking action to increase breastfeeding rates in Ireland. The HSE's Breastfeeding in a Healthy Ireland action plan is the framework for progressing supports for breastfeeding in Ireland. The Department of Health works closely with the HSE national breastfeeding co-ordinator, who has responsibility for the implementation of the health service breastfeeding action plan 2016-2021, which has been extended to 2025.

A key action of the HSE breastfeeding action plan is to communicate the importance of breastfeeding through social media, marketing, support and advocacy. Credible online breastfeeding information and support is available through thebreastfeeding.iewebsite and the HSE's mychild.iewebsite. The mychild.iesite provides information to parents-to-be, and parents of young children. The website is part of a suite of information supports provided both directly by practitioners and online. This website covers pregnancy, labour and birth, and babies and toddlers. In the past four years, the HSE has invested in a promotional campaign for parents aged 25 to 45 on mychild.ieand one of the most popular topics, namely, breastfeeding, features strongly in this ongoing campaign. The HSE also runs MyChild social media channels on Facebook and Instagram, where breastfeeding topics are regularly featured. Once a year the HSE runs the National Breastfeeding Week from 1 to 7 October.

Despite the many initiatives to promote breastfeeding and support mothers, breastfeeding rates in Ireland remain lower than in many other countries. Many mothers still feel breastfeeding is not the norm. Mothers who breastfeed or who have tried breastfeeding can experience a range of challenges, both physical and societal. They have experienced difficulty with finding suitable places to breastfeed while out and about, as the Senator has outlined, or have been made to feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding in public. A broader societal change is needed to promote a more positive culture around breastfeeding and to ensure breastfeeding is enabled and supported in all settings, including in public spaces and in the workplace. Peer support groups and the establishment of the We're Breastfeeding Friendly initiative are very welcome supports promoted by the Healthy Ireland framework to encourage new mothers to feel comfortable breastfeeding their infants on demand. Some places may offer a private area for breastfeeding mothers, but it is parental choice should they decide to use it. It is not a requirement that premises be adapted in any way to support breastfeeding mothers under the We're Breastfeeding Friendly initiative. Any business, community group or organisation that has premises open to the general public is eligible to join this initiative. More information can be found on that at

Paid maternity benefit of 26 weeks is available for those with enough PRSI contributions and a further 16 weeks of unpaid leave can also be availed of. If a parent returns to work and continues to breastfeed their baby, they are entitled to take time off work each day to breastfeed under section 9 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004. This applies to all women or birthing parents in employment who have given birth within the previous two years, which is 104 weeks. To conclude, in consultation with an employer, a breastfeeding parent is entitled breastfeed in the workplace or express breast milk, where suitable facilities are available in the workplace, or to have their working hours reduced without loss of pay to facilitate breastfeeding where suitable facilities are not available. However, it is important to note employers do not have to provide facilities in the workplace to facilitate breastfeeding if providing such facilities would give rise to considerable costs. There are, therefore, no plans at present to provide funding to SMEs to make high quality breastfeeding facilities available.


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