Breastfeeding rates increasing slowly

Importance of skin-to-skin contact highlighted
  • Deborah Condon

Almost 60% of babies born in Ireland are being breastfed when they leave hospital - an increase of 10% over the last decade, the HSE has said.

This week is National Breastfeeding Week and the theme of this year's event is ‘Every Breastfeed Makes a Difference'.

According to the HSE, the latest data shows that 59.9% of babies are breastfed on discharge from hospital and breastfeeding rates are gradually increasing.

Data from 2018 shows that 55% of babies were still being breastfed at the time of their first public health nurse visit, while 40% were still being breastfed at the time of their three-month check-up.

As part of this year's National Breastfeeding Week, the HSE is emphasising the importance of skin-to-skin contact after birth.

"We know that skin-to-skin contact for at least an hour immediately after birth helps get breastfeeding off to a good start. The good news is that we now know that the practice of skin-to-skin contact after birth is widespread across our maternity services," explained HSE national breastfeeding coordinator, Laura McHugh.

New evidence from hospitals suggests that 86% of all healthy full-term babies receive skin-to-skin contact after birth.

According to Ms McHugh, if babies are placed unclothed directly onto their mother's chests immediately after birth for at least an hour, most will naturally seek out and feed at the breast.

Some babies will need more time and help to initiate feeding, but skin-to-skin contact can also help mothers to recognise and respond to their baby's signals and stimulates the release of hormones to support bonding and breastfeeding.

Other benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth include:
-Helping the baby adjust to life outside the womb
-Calming and relaxing both mother and baby
-Regulating the babies temperature and keeping them warm
-Passing on good bacteria from the mothers skin to the baby's skin to help protect against infection.

"Your birth partner can also take part in skin-to-skin contact to bond with the baby if the mother is needing medical attention immediately after the birth. This skin-to-skin contact will be calming for babies and the cuddles also help them to bond," Ms McHugh noted.

She acknowledged that for many mothers, breastfeeding "is a new skill that takes time and practise to master", however help is available.

"Having a baby is a life changing time. We want to let mothers know about supports available on to help them to breastfeed for longer because the longer a mother breastfeeds, the greater the health protection for her and her child," Ms McHugh said. includes extensive breastfeeding information, videos and guides as well as an ‘Ask our Breastfeeding Expert' service.

Speaking about this topic, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said that while breastfeeding rates in Ireland are slowly increasing, "we have significantly more work to do".

"Every breastfeed makes a positive difference to the health of mother and baby, so supporting mothers to breastfeed and taking action to improve breastfeeding rates are important objectives of many health policies.

"It is essential that the health service does everything it can to drive those rates up and create a more supportive culture in our society," he commented.

National Breastfeeding Week runs from October 1-7. Over 100 events will take place nationwide throughout the week, including a visit by breastfeeding mothers and their babies to Áras an Uactaráin.

To find out more about events in your area, contact your local breastfeeding support group, details of which are on

To join the HSE parenting and breastfeeding community, see the HSE Facebook page here and follow hse_mychild on Instagram here.


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