An online breastfeeding support service has seen a big jump in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week is National Breastfeeding Week and according to the HSE, it's 'Ask our Breastfeeding Expert' online service has recorded a 57% increase in demand in recent months.
This service is part of the mychild.ie website, which includes breastfeeding information, videos and guides, as well as wider pregnancy and child health information.
The 'Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert' service was established in 2014 and involves a team of lactation consultants who provide advice to parents via email and live chat. It is available seven days a week, with the live chat facility available between 10am and 3pm, Monday to Friday.
An analysis of this service between April and August of this year found that there were 567 live chats - an increase of 35% when compared to the same period in 2019.
Some 1,121 emails were also answered - an increase of 71% when compared to last year.
The most common queries related to how to prepare for breastfeeding when pregnant, how to restart breastfeeding after a break, and how to deal with pain when breastfeeding.
Other supports have also moved online to help parents during the pandemic, including hospital antenatal breastfeeding classes and support group meetings.
In fact, over 70 online support group meetings were held in August alone.
"Parents who welcomed new babies in 2020 never expected to do so during a pandemic. We understand the past seven months have been hugely challenging for families in accessing face-to-face breastfeeding support in communities.
"I want to acknowledge the efforts by HSE staff and particularly the many breastfeeding volunteers who have continued to provide virtual and phone support during this time," commented HSE national breastfeeding coordinator, Laura McHugh.
She noted that the increase in queries to the ‘Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert' service coincided with reduced face-to-face contact with other healthcare professionals during the pandemic.
"Important sources of breastfeeding information and advice, such as antenatal classes and breastfeeding support groups, had to be cancelled, so the online support service is proving more popular than ever.
"Nothing can fully replace the face-to-face experience, but the impact of COVID-19 restrictions has underlined the vital role of online support for parents," Ms McHugh said.
Just over 63% of babies in Ireland were breastfed at the time they left hospital in 2019, compared to around 50% in 2007, according to hospital data.
Ms McHugh believes that mothers are experiencing improvements in their experiences of breastfeeding, both in hospital and in the community. However, she acknowledged that breastfeeding "is a skill that takes time and practise to master".
"In the early days, skin-to-skin contact and keeping your baby close to you will help you recognise the signals they make to tell you they are hungry or want a cuddle. This will help you settle into a rhythm together.
"Responding to your baby's needs helps them feel secure, while supporting their brain development. We want to let mothers know about supports available on mychild.ie to help them to breastfeed for as long as they wish," she added.
National Breastfeeding Week runs from October 1-7. For more information on breastfeeding, click on mychild.ie, or to join the HSE parenting and breastfeeding community, see the HSE Facebook page here or follow on Instagram here.
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