Glanbia announced that their new €235 million nutritional ingredients plant in Belview, Co Kilkenny will be opened by Enda Kenny today. This is the largest dairy investment in the history of the State. The purpose of the plant is to focus on exports. Ireland currently supplies 10% of the global infant milk formula. Yes our tiny little country manages to feed 10% of the children of the world with artificial milk. Targeted marketing has been focused on mainland China in the last year resulting in the volume of these exports to mainland China doubling. Glanbia anticipates huge growth in the area. I am sure they do, given the support they are getting from the agriculture lobby in the Dail.
Meanwhile, in January we heard from robust research that Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. Yes you read that right, not in Europe, not in comparison with other OECD countries, but in the WORLD. (Growing Up in Ireland: Maternal Health Behaviours and Child Growth in Infancy , Layte, Richard / McCrory, Cathal (TCD) Infant Cohort Report No. 4, Chapter 4)
Not only do we have the lowest rate after discharge (primarily measured as discharge from hospital), but we also have a worrying early weaning rate, with half of Irish born babies being put onto solid food and follow on milks at four months. Evidence based best practice, and the official HSE and Dept of Health guideline is that exclusive breastfeeding should continue until 6 months, and then continue as part of a mixed diet until two years or beyond. Our rates at 6 months are only 6%. This type of early weaning can result in rapid weight gain which Co – Author of the ESRI Report, Prof Layte warned can lead to “metabolic disorders later in life.”
Understaffed postnatal units do their best to follow baby friendly guidelines and to give mothers information on the normality of breastfeeding and the important role it plays in early nutrition, early development, bonding and immunology not to mention life long immunity it naturally offers to certain diseases.
The national breastfeeding coordinator, the fabulous Siobhan Hourigan, who does a fantastic job in promoting the normality and health benefits of breastfeeding has a minimalistic budget.
It is estimated that the total spend on promoting breastfeeding by the government is less than €100,000, whilst the annual cost invested by the HSE and Department of Health in treating acute infections in infants nationally stands at around €12m to €15m each year; conditions which can be limited by breastfeeding .
Unpaid and voluntary groups such as la Leche League, Friends of Breastfeeding and Cuidiu do their utmost to encourage breastfeeding in the community and to support mothers in their local areas with a local network of support and information.
Yes, midwives, mothers, babies, volunteers, health promotion officers and researchers all work incredibly hard to support the health of our future nation by encouraging the normal process of breastfeeding, but how can they ever be successful and have access to much needed funding when agricultural lobby groups hold such sway?
There are obvious conflicting agendas in Leinster House; agriculture and exports vs health. and at the moment the favour appears to rest with agriculture at the expense of everything else.
Tomorrow marks the start of the annual La Leche League Conference, which would normally offer an annual opportunity to promote breastfeeding in Ireland in the media. I doubt that Enda Kenny will be opening the conference, and I wonder at the timing of the grand opening of the Glanbia plant.
Home birth breastfeeding rates on discharge are 96%
On the day of discharge from the care of the SECM, 96% of mothers who birthed at home were breastfeeding exclusively. These mothers were twice as likely to be breastfeeding exclusively as on day of discharge compared to all women who gave birth (96% versus 47%). (NPEC, 2012).
Home birth midwives support breastfeeding 100% and many are trained lactation consultants. Independent home birth midwife Philomena Canning was awarded Midwife of the Year in 2012 by the Maternity and Infant Awards; an award she refused to accept on ethical grounds as the awards were sponsored by SMA infant nutrition.
La Leche League Annual COnference 7-8th March 2015
NPEC Audit on Planned Home Births 2012
Growing Up in Ireland: Maternal Health Behaviours and Child Growth in Infancy , Layte, Richard / McCrory, Cathal (TCD) Infant Cohort Report No. 4, Chapter 4