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The world’s first milk bank was set up in Austria in 1909 – we are 112 years behind on this

A motion calling for a variety of supports for breastfeeding mothers has been introduced in the Dáil, by Social Democrats Children Spokesperson Jennifer Whitmore.

“Tomorrow, May 19, is world human milk donation day – a date which highlights the fact that there is no milk bank in Ireland. The world’s first milk bank was set up in Austria in 1909. We are 112 years behind on this.

“This is just one stark example of the complete absence of supports for new mothers when it comes to breastfeeding. Currently, Irish women must rely on a milk bank in Northern Ireland and supplies from across the border are often used for critically ill premature babies, for whom breast milk can be lifesaving.

“Ireland has no national policy on the provision of donor human milk resulting in an unequal supply to babies across hospitals in the State.

“It is not good enough that the minimal resources, and effort, that would be required to set up a milk bank in this State have not yet been expended. But, this is indicative of a complete lack of support and investment in this area generally.

“Breastfeeding initiation rates vary wildly around the country. In Dublin South East it is 84pc while in Donegal it drops to just 44pc. This variation is due to a chronic shortage of lactation consultations, who can support women as they try to breastfeed their babies, across the country. Donegal, Sligo, Wexford and Waterford do not have a single lactation consultant.

“There is a postcode lottery when it comes to support for women – and it is not good enough.

“This motion, from the Social Democrats, is calling for immediate investment, and a targeted recruitment drive, to boost the number of lactation consultations across the country. We are also seeking the establishment of a milk bank and the enactment of advertising guidelines which ban advertising that undermines breastfeeding.

“We need a cultural shift in this country because, currently, we don’t talk about issues like this. Breastfeeding needs to become the norm – not some hidden practise that is viewed by some as obscene when done in public.

“There are so many barriers for women who want to breastfeed their babies – they are not provided with information, supports or resources. Our failure to even discuss the issue causes women further confusion and worry.

“When was the last time you saw a woman breastfeeding represented on tv or in printed media? It simply doesn’t happen. When you see women feeding their babies being represented in media, it is usually an ad for formula follow on milk.

“No women should be shamed for whatever choices she makes. Whatever policies we put in place must be inclusive and supportive.

“This motion is about providing a level-playing field and giving women the supports they need to make decisions that are right for them.”

18 May, 2021


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