By Niamh Griffin
Almost a quarter of women have been given conflicting advice about breastfeeding by health professionals while 23% were encouraged to use formula when they did not want it, a new survey has found.
Breastfeeding supports were described as “inadequate and inaccessible” while one in 10 mothers said breastfeeding choices were not supported in hospitals, according to the survey of 5,412 women.
Technological University Dublin chair of Public Health Nutrition, Dr Liz O’Sullivan, and breastfeeding advocacy group Bainne Beatha, oversaw the survey that found mixed experiences among mothers — with one in three saying the support they received in hospitals was excellent, but the same number reporting fair or poor experiences.
Only 45% of women who met a public health nurse found it positive.
Call for support
Presenting the findings to the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Bainne Beatha called for immediate government action to support women let down by inadequate and inaccessible support.
“We want Ireland to reach a place where nobody’s wish and right to breastfeed is taken away from them because of under-resourcing, under-funding, or a lack of training,” a spokeswoman for Bainne Beatha said.
“Telling women they should breastfeed antenatally and then not supporting them to do so postnatally is unethical and may result in feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt if breastfeeding doesn’t go as they had hoped.”
Sources of information
The survey found 62% of women got information from public health nurses.
Friends, social media groups, and families were the next most common sources, followed by lactation consultants.
Responses also highlight the positive impact of help when it is available.
Mother of two, and founder of the breastfeeding support business Mamas Boobie Box, Petrina O’Halloran said a lack of information is a significant barrier for women.
Her second daughter was born in September 2021 at home in Ennis, Co Clare. She was experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding and told the public health nurse she planned to attend a private lactation consultant.
“The nurse asked me ‘why did you book privately, there is a HSE lactation consultant working in the community, she can come to your house’ but I never knew this was available,” she said.
The public health nurse then offered her “amazing help” to get through her difficulties with breastfeeding. However, Ms O’Hallaron questioned why her GP or local hospital had never shared this information.
“We need more knowledge sharing of the services that are available. My public health nurse was amazing, but not every public health nurse is supportive, that’s reality from what I’ve spoken to mums about,” she said.