Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland

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Breastfeeding statistics in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, infant feeding statistics are collected from the Northern Ireland Maternity System (NIMATS) and from the Child Health System (CHS).

Information on infant feeding is recorded by maternity services at birth and discharge, and recorded by health visitors in the Professional Child Health Record (PCHR) at 10 days, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months.

All babies in Northern Ireland are now born in a Baby Friendly environment. Over the five-year period from 2012 to 2017, there was a 5.8% increase in the proportion of infants where breastfeeding has been attempted.

In addition, between 2013 and 2017, breastfeeding prevalence continued to rise; at 6 weeks there was a 3.4% rise; at 3 months there was a 4.3% rise; at 6 months there was a 6.3% rise and at 12 months there was a 5.3% rise. Northern Ireland are now working to ensure sustainability and progression of the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiate into neonatal care.

Breastfeeding policy in Northern Ireland

The Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland (DHSSPS) issued a draft breastfeeding consultation document in June 2012: A Ten Year Breastfeeding Strategy for Northern Ireland. This strategy’s approach seeks to improve knowledge about the effects of breastfeeding, support mothers to initiate and establish breastfeeding, and strengthen community support programmes by creating supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers and children. The maternity strategy for Northern Ireland was published in July 2012.

DHSSPS have produced a public health strategy consultation document, Fit and Well Changing Lives 2012-2022 (DHSSPS 2012d). This overarching strategy includes a key policy aim: to give every child the best start. Outcomes required to meet this policy aim include providing breastfeeding advice and support before and during pregnancy to women and their partners. A further outcome specifies increasing breastfeeding rates, particularly for those least likely to breastfeed, including young mothers and those in lower socio-economic groups.

In June 2013, Northern Ireland launched their breastfeeding strategy, Breastfeeding – A Great Start: A Strategy for Northern Ireland 2013-2023. The purpose of the strategy is to improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies in Northern Ireland through breastfeeding. It sets out the strategic direction to protect, promote, support and normalise breastfeeding in Northern Ireland for the next ten years.

Other useful resources

Breastfeeding promotion as an economic investment: this report from the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series highlights the importance of investing in public health programmes, particularly breastfeeding support.

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