Press Release

Minister launches European blueprint for action on breastfeeding

A Blueprint for Action to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across all European countries will be launched during the Irish Presidency of the EU by Mr. Micheál Martin, Irish Minister for Health and Children in Dublin Castle today, Friday June 18th 2004. The blueprint document “represents international recognition of the importance of Breastfeeding for good health around Europe and emphasises the efforts of countries throughout Europe working together towards better health for everyone” said the Minister. This is the first time a pan-European approach has been taken to address common breastfeeding issues. 28 countries were involved in this EU-funded project which was coordinated over 18 months by Dr. Adriano Cattaneo, Consultant Epidemiologist, Institute of Child Health, Burlo Garofolo, Trieste (Italy).

The decision to develop the Blueprint was based on overwhelming public health evidence showing that protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding is one of the most effective and efficient interventions for improving lifelong health. Breastfeeding makes a major contribution to the present and future health of children and their mothers and it can also significantly reduce health costs for families and public health care systems. The Blueprint team have developed an effective public health tool that can be adapted in individual European countries to fit different national and regional health structures and stages of policy development and service provision.

The Minister congratulated the team on their work and agreed that the early years of a child´s life provides a unique window of opportunity for establishing lifelong health patterns. “Having recently established the National Taskforce on Obesity in Ireland, I am particularly interested in the positive correlation between breastfeeding and a reduction in the later incidence of overweight and obesity in older children and young adults,” said the Minister.

Recent studies estimate that the slower, more stable growth patterns of breastfed babies and its positive effects on blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol levels in later life has the potential to cut heart disease in adulthood by 25%. Therefore, the diet we are fed in early life is probably one of the most important health interventions we can control.

Gro Nylander, MD, PhD, one of the speakers at the Conference is a consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist and medical geneticist at the University Hospital Rikshospitalet, Oslo, Norway expressed the project team’s confidence that the Blueprint will result in an increase in the number of health workers and policy makers with the expertise to effectively support, promote and protect breastfeeding. The team believe this will greatly boost the up-take and duration of breastfeeding and will ensure that mothers are confident and happy with their breastfeeding experience. Dr. Nylander said that history has clearly shown that breastfeeding is vulnerable to changes in society and as such that it is necessary to build stronger structures that protect, promote and support it. “It´s nice to know that supporting breastfeeding pays dividends too. In fact it is one of the most profitable things for any country to invest in. Just taking account of the cost savings from 3 illnesses that breastfeeding protects against, the US Department of Agriculture and Nutrition estimated in 2001 that a minimum of USD 3.6 billion would be saved if breast feeding were to increase from its current levels to those recommended by the US Surgeon General.” Also at today´s event, the Minister awarded the first WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Awards in Ireland. The two successful hospitals are Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway and the Regional Hospital Waterford.

Minister Martin said that “the achievement of a ´Baby Friendly´ breastfeeding award is very much a collaborative effort by all grades and members of staff, and he congratulated Ms. Genevieve Becker, Irish National Co-ordinator for the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and her team of voluntary experts for their work in motivating and instigating the necessary changes in policy and practice at all levels in these hospitals”. The Minister, however, emphasised the need to maintain these high standards of care. He also praised the staff of the other hospitals participating in the WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative, as they work toward a similar achievement. Over 19,000 hospitals worldwide have received this award, which recognises that implementing best practice in the maternity service is crucial to the success of programmes to promote breastfeeding. Of the 22 maternity hospitals/units in Ireland, 20 are participating in the Baby Friendly Initiative.