New mothers should not be offered free baby formula in Irish hospitals unless it is medically prescribed, according to a Limerick consultant neonatologist.
Professor Roy K Philip made the call as National Breastfeeding Week comes to an end – warning that Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
He has warned that breastfeeding rates in the mid-west of the country now stand at just over 60% - around 30% below the rate in Scandinavia.
After examining 20 years of post-birth breastfeeding data from University Maternity Hospital Limerick, Professor Philip has suggested 10 priority national actions that could be put in place to increase breastfeeding rates.
Among the suggestions is his call for hospitals to stop providing free baby formula, unless it is medically prescribed.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, he said all the available evidence shows that “breast is best” when it comes to feeding a newborn.
He said hospitals should continue to support women who choose to formula-feed; however, they should be asked to purchase it themselves and bring it to the hospital with them.
“Every evidence published to date suggests that breastmilk is the natural feeding for the baby,” he said.
“It may not happen all the time. I completely understand. We have to give a lot of support to women to breastfeed and breastfeeding is not something which will just come quickly for everyone - it needs family support, and lactation support.
“After reviewing every evidence available in the world - WHO and UNICEF - it is very clear that we should not supply free formula milk in hospitals and in baby-friendly hospitals.”
He said most hospitals in the UK do not offer free formula to new mothers.
“Just look at our next-door neighbour,” he said. “In the UK - York, Leeds, St Georges, Manchester, Royal Wolverhampton, Southampton - all these trusts are very clear if you look at the website: We support women who choose to formula feed; however, you have to bring your own starter pack when you come to the hospital.”
Professor Philip said he understands the concerns people may have with his proposal – but insisted that he is not disrespecting a new mother’s choices by calling for an end to free formula.
He said hospitals would continue to support women “appropriately and equally” regardless of which way they choose to feed; however, they would simply have to provide the formula feed themselves if that is how they want to go.
He said mothers need more support to begin breastfeeding and the money saved on formula could be used to hire more lactation consultants.
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