Ireland Scores 56/100 on Support for Breastfeeding in New Global Report

Published: 28 Nov, 2023

The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative Report, led by TU Dublin with support from UNICEF, Ireland ranks Ireland at 57th out of 99 participating countries.

Ireland has achieved a mediocre score of 56/100 when it comes to support for, and protection of, breastfeeding and ranks 57th out of 99 participating countries globally, according to an inaugural report launched today by Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) in partnership with UNICEF Ireland and others.

The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) is a standardised assessment that evaluates a country’s implementation of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, benchmarking progress against other countries.

Ireland’s score of 56/100 ranks it at 57th out of 99 countries globally that have completed the assessment and 10th out of 19 European countries that have participated.

Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with just 63% of babies receiving breast milk at birth and <5% exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months, a stark deviation from the WHO target of 50% at the six-month mark.

The TU Dublin report pinpoints gaps in Ireland’s support for and protection of breastfeeding and identifies key areas for improvement to raise Ireland’s breastfeeding rates. These include standardising breastfeeding education for all healthcare professionals who encounter pregnant and breastfeeding women, providing for greater availability of breastfeeding preparation classes and breastfeeding support groups, developing an infant and young child feeding in emergencies preparedness plan, and fully implementing the World Health Organization Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

Helping to launch the report, Gráinne Moloney, Senior Advisor in Early Childhood Nutrition at UNICEF HQ in New York, commented:

“This report is an important milestone and piece of the puzzle towards improving Ireland’s breastfeeding rates. It shows that while there are some good policies in place, there needs to be greater implementation and enforcement of breastfeeding supportive policies to translate into higher rates.”

Preparation of the first WBTi-Ireland report was undertaken by a group of academics, healthcare professionals, and representatives of breastfeeding support groups led by Dr Liz O’Sullivan, Lecturer in Nutrition at Technological University Dublin, with funding support from UNICEF Ireland.

Lead author, Dr Liz O’Sullivan of TU Dublin said:

“The good news is that Ireland has some good policy in place; the bad news is that that doesn’t seem to be reflected in our national breastfeeding statistics and in maternal feedback. Healthcare staff on the ground need to be adequately resourced to be able to give good, timely breastfeeding support. Ireland’s National Breastfeeding Action Plan expires this year; if we focus on developing a new action plan, and implement the recommendations in this report, there is real potential to improve our score for when the report is repeated in 5 years.”

Representing Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland, GP Dr Sarah Brennan commented:

“56 out of 100 is an average score, but we must do better and deliver optimum health outcomes. Prioritising breastfeeding is critical for infant and maternal health. Our health system is struggling to deal with the burden of disease in society; breastfeeding lowers the risk of many illnesses, and therefore prioritising breastfeeding is a prudent investment in the overall health of the population.

Read the report here.