Ireland should ban online advertising of baby formula to encourage breastfeeding among young mothers, according to an independent senator.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Senator Alice Mary Higgins warned that Ireland has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
She said the World Health Organisation has warned that online advertising of baby formula is “massively undermining” when it comes to increasing breastfeeding rates to “regulate, limit and if necessary, ban” the practice.
She was speaking as the Seanad prepares to debate a new proposal that would allow for the introduction of a ban on the online marketing of baby formula.
The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has voiced support for the proposal, warning that infant formula advertising “has been proven to undermine women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully”.
Senator Higgins said the breastfeeding average around the world is around 40% - while in Ireland it is closer to 6%.
She was referencing figures from the Irish Maternity Indicator System which found that in 2019, just 62% of Irish mothers breastfed their new-borns.
Within 72 hours of discharge from the hospital, the figure falls to 42%.
After three months, just over 31% are still breastfeeding and by six months, the figure falls to 6%.
“One of the factors is that you do have very strong promotion and very well-resourced promotion of bottle-feeding and formula because it is a huge industry,” she said.
“So, there are a couple of pieces to it. One is we need to give a lot more supports in terms of breast feeding, including public supports for women but the other part is we do need to regulate, to limit and if necessary ban - certainly in terms of some of the online practices we are seeing - the heavy commercial promotion of the option which is, while commercially lucrative, is certainly less than efficient for public health and for women and children’s health.”
Senator Higgins said the WHO has recently published new research that “specifically has identifies online marketing as something that is massively undermining”.
She said Ireland isn’t fulfilling its obligations under the current WHO code set down in 1981 – which notes that formula marketers should not have educational functions and should seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women.
Also on the show, Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard said that while “we all realise that breast is best”, banning online advertising is not the answer.
“To go down the line of banning online advertising and saying that’s the real core of the problem, I think that’s missing the point,” he said
“I think the big problem here is we need to have more supports in the community – more lactation consultants and more supports to women and families that want to breastfeed.
“I think it is a little bit of a red herring putting baby formula in the same category as junk food and other brackets. That makes no sense whatsoever. If anything, it undermines women and families who want to actually bottle-feed because they might feel the product they are taking isn’t of a suitable standard.
“We have the best standard baby food product in the world and I think everybody agrees with that.
“The big issue here is making sure the supports are in the community – and they are not there at the moment.”
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