A poll by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and BBC Radio Sheffield asked over 1,000 women aged 18-40 across the UK, who had a baby in the past decade, about their experience of feeding their babies from birth up to six months.

The research, carried out by London polling company ComRes, found that half of mothers who choose to breastfeed felt like they let their baby down when they struggled to breastfeed (50%). Two thirds (66%) of them said it was one of the best parts of being a mother but half (49%) also said it was one of the toughest.

The back drop to this research is the substantial variation in breastfeeding rates in the four nations of the UK with initiation rates in 2010 highest in England at 83%, compared with 74% in Scotland, 71% in Wales, and 64% in Northern Ireland. Exclusive breastfeeding at six weeks was 24% in England and 22% in Scotland, compared to 17% in Wales and 13% in Northern Ireland (Infant Feeding Survey 2010).

Speaking at a meeting of the Breastfeeding Community of Practice meeting in Queen’s University Belfast, Dr. Jennifer Hanratty, founder of Breastival said: “In Northern Ireland we have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the UK which has implications for public health but individual women cannot be burdened with changing our culture. That’s why Breastival exists – to support individual families who choose to breastfeed so that they don’t feel so alone and to get the message to the public that supporting breastfeeding is good for all of us. We can all play a role in supporting families who choose human milk for human babies.”

The Breastfeeding Community of Practice has been set up at Queens which aims to bring together research, policy and practice and a network of people who are keen to address the issue of low breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland.

Breastival is a fun-filled family festival that offers support, learning and a chance to meet other families. With talks and workshops for expectant parents, grandparents and supporters, Breastival aims to normalise what has sometimes been a controversial subject in Northern Ireland. Despite the NHS and World Health Organisation recommendation that children be breastfed until the age of two and beyond, less than 7 per cent of children in Northern Ireland are breastfed past six months.

Breastival is hosting two events in February as part of the NI Science Festival. ‘The Science of Human Milk’ will take place on Saturday 16 February, 11 am at The Mac. Also on Saturday at The Mac ‘Why NI Doesn’t Breastfeed’ will take place at 2pm and explores why NI has such low breastfeeding rates, why it should matter to everyone and what you can do about it.

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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