World Breastfeeding Week: we all have a role to play to encourage and support breastfeeding

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Ahead of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August), the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging greater support for parents who choose to breastfeed.

Following this year’s theme of “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding”, the PHA is highlighting the important role that friends and family members have in supporting breastfeeding mums.

Janet Calvert, the PHA’s lead for breastfeeding, said: “Breastfeeding isn’t just a one-person task. Yes it’s the mums who feed, but when fathers, partners, families, workplaces, and communities show their support, mums are more likely to start breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for longer.

Quite simply, mother’s milk is the healthier choice for mum and baby. So when you decide to breastfeed, you’re giving your baby a wonderful start in life.

“The greatest benefits are to be gained by feeding your baby breastmilk and nothing else for the first six months of life, and then continuing to breastfeed after your baby starts taking solid food. But any period of breastfeeding at all, however short, will benefit you and your baby.”

“Breastfeeding can help protect babies against a wide range of serious illnesses including gastroenteritis and respiratory infections in infancy as well as asthma, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in later life. Breastfeeding also helps to create a close bond between mother and child.

“We also know that breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

“Support to help mums get started with breastfeeding can be crucial and all maternity units in Northern Ireland have been designated as ‘Baby Friendly’ by the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative.

“Once mums leave hospital, support is available from more than 100 breastfeeding support groups across Northern Ireland; through peer support volunteers, who are mums who have breastfed and, provide mother-to-mother support to those on their breastfeeding journey; and from breastfeeding counsellors who have been trained to provide extra support.

“But we all have a role in supporting breastfeeding mums-– whether that is through encouragement to a partner, friend, sister, or daughter who is feeding, bringing them a drink, preparing meals, doing housework, or protecting them from others’ negativity towards breastfeeding, these things all mean a lot to a mum who can then get on with feeding their baby.”

Someone who can play a practical role in supporting a breastfeeding mum, is the dad.

Ballymena father-of-two Stephen Johnston, said he quickly realised that having a wife who was breastfeeding meant he had a greater amount of responsibility.

“It’s something that has evolved in our relationship. Whenever we were going through the early stages of it we were speaking to a lot of other people who had been through the journey already and one of the things they did say was that the mother has to give themselves over to breastfeeding, so at that stage I realised that, as the dad, I have to step up here.

Stephen’s wife Ruth breastfed their oldest daughter Eliana, who is now two, and is breastfeeding their second daughter, three-month-old Raya, and Stephen had some useful advice for other dads.

“It is simple things like helping out with the dinner, helping out with Eliana who is a bit older, doing bedtime, bath time and things like that. Even simple things like when you’re out and about shopping as a family, always trying to think ‘where’s a good place if we need to feed, or need to change a nappy, do we have access to these different places?’

“I would be quite a light sleeper, so I would get up and lift them out of the cot and try and put them back over to sleep if possible, but if not, it just gives Ruth that bit of extra time as well to get herself up, out of bed and in to a chair beside the bed and get herself ready.  

“Also as well, during the middle of the night if she was feeding, if Ruth needed a drink or a snack, I would run downstairs and get that for her as well. So yes, the mother does the bulk of it, but the dad still needs to be up in my opinion to help out and things like that during the night. So it’s not just straight forward, but you each have your role.”

The PHA’s website has information on all of the types of support available. It also includes advice and guidance for employers on how to support breastfeeding mums on their return to work and emphasises the primary objective of giving every child the best possible start in life in line with the NI public health framework, Making Life Better.

The website has an interactive map highlighting that almost 800 venues are signed up to the PHA’s Breastfeeding Welcome Here Scheme. This scheme helps show community support for breastfeeding, with businesses, council facilities and popular tourist attractions signed up to the initiative to show their support for breastfeeding mums.

The venues have pledged to welcome breastfeeding mothers and agreed to display a pink sticker and certificate which shows they are members of the scheme, with staff trained to be supportive of mothers on the premises.

Janet continued: “We’re regularly adding new members to the scheme and while a mum can of course breastfeed wherever she wishes, Breastfeeding Welcome Here lets mums see where a business has committed to supporting breastfeeding. This can often take the pressure off a mother by showing this is a friendly environment where the needs of a breastfeeding mum will be met.”


Notes to editors:

  • The PHA website has information the benefits of breastfeeding, advice and guidance on all aspects of feeding, expressing, problems, returning to work, weaning, guidance for employers, and information on the Breastfeeding Welcome Here Scheme.
  • Northern Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the UK
  • While almost 60% of mothers in NI start breastfeeding the number breastfeeding dramatically decrease after the first days and weeks
  • The breastfeeding rate at discharge home from hospital is 48.1%.
  • At six weeks – 31.9% of babies are being breastfed
  • At three months – 26.5% are being breastfed
  • At six months – 21.3% are being breastfed
  • At 12 months – 13.0% are being breastfed
  • Data source: PHA. Children’s Health in Northern Ireland
  • A statistical profile of births using data drawn from the Northern Ireland Child Health System, Northern Ireland Maternity System and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Public Health Intelligence Unit December 2018 is available at
  • The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommendations on breastfeeding are as follows: initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with safe, nutritionally adequate, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month.
  • All maternity units in Northern Ireland have been designated as ‘Baby Friendly’ by the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative.
  • Northern Ireland was the first UK region to have all maternity units recognised by the UNICEF initiative, which sets the standards for maternity, neonatal, health visiting and Sure Start services to ensure evidence-based practice to promote and support breastfeeding, and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships.
  • Maternity units and healthcare facilities are assessed by UNICEF and are designated ‘Baby Friendly’ once they achieve and maintain these standards.