Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Health Strategies

9:30 am

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party) | Oireachtas source

The Minister of State is very welcome. To our shame in Ireland, we have the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe. We have one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, in fact. A recent study by The Lancet showed that 800,000 babies per year and 20,000 women per year die as a result of not breastfeeding. This should be a shock for us in a First World country.

We know that measures have been taken in Ireland. We have put in place more lactation consultants and allow for peer-to-peer support on the ground, but much more needs to be done.As a result of all of that, we in the women's caucus set up a committee on breast-feeding. I am the chair of that committee. Yesterday, I was delighted that we had members from UNICEF, Bainne Beatha, and experts from TU Dublin come in to us to present a World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative report. I was also delighted that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, came and proudly put up a picture of himself on social media with a sign saying he supports breast-feeding in Ireland. He is the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and it is a very good step in the right direction that we see this is being taken seriously by the Government.

Last year we introduced the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act. I was thrilled that the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, took on board a request by ourselves to put into the legislation a restriction on breast-milk substitutes. Why is that important? We know that when there is unlimited marketing of breast-milk substitutes - baby milk formula - breast-feeding rates go down. We also know that we have a heavily marketed industry here in Ireland. The online marketing of breast-milk substitutes is targeted at women of a particular age who might be struggling in the middle of the night with breast-feeding a small infant. If they go to the Internet for support and type in that they are looking for breast-feeding support, what pops up is an ad for formula milk. There is no doubt that when you do not have support it is easier to think that this might be the solution, but by having this heavily marketed product we are letting down the women who want to breast-feed.

We should not restrict access to formula milk at all because it is the choice of individual families what they want to feed their children, but we should take note of the fact that more than 60% of women want to breast-feed. They go into hospital wanting to breast-feed and yet the numbers who actually do it are half of that. We are letting people down when they have made a conscious decision and the State does not support them. One thing that we can do is to follow on from the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act and become a co-sponsor of the published WHO guidance on regulatory measures aimed at restricting digital marketing of breast-milk substitutes. Brazil, for instance, is willing to sponsor it. It would send a really strong signal if Ireland is a co-sponsor. This resolution is coming before the World Health Assembly in May 2024. I would like to hear the Department is supporting that, in line with the support yesterday from the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Government's support for measures such as lactation consultants. We need a lot more than lactation consultants. We also need more midwives who have more time to spend with women. That is what I hear from both the health professionals and the women who are often left without that support.


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