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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Breastfeeding

I support the motion and commend the Senators from the Green Party for bringing it forward. The benefits of breastfeeding to both babies and mothers are well documented internationally. I was surprised by the figure in the motion that we only have 62.3% of babies in Ireland being breast-fed at birth. This is far behind most of the western hemisphere.

I appreciate that the motion recognises the medical necessity of formula-based milk for some babies and infants but it is true that the industry has got out of hand and that infant formula is being heavily marketed towards much too wide a parent population.

The Fermanagh milk bank scheme has done brilliant work for so many mothers and babies. I would like to see every support given to it and for milk banks to be opened in this country also.

I spoke to a lactation consultant who told me all about the work done by these professionals with mothers of newborns and the progress they are able to make in this most vital area by providing practical direction to new mothers and giving them a greater sense of security and confidence in breastfeeding their child. However, she also spoke of the low numbers of qualified lactation consultants in the country and I think the motion puts forward some suggestions that these consultants have been calling for. This includes providing breastfeeding training at undergraduate and postgraduate level across relevant disciplines, developing a clear referral pathway for mothers requiring additional breastfeeding support before and after birth to lactation consultants from GPs, midwives, public health nurses and consultants and providing education and breastfeeding in all secondary schools as part of the current SPHE course. This increase in training and awareness is the best way to increase the prevalence of breastfeeding in Ireland.

I have a slight concern around recent reports of viral RNA being found in the breast milk of women who received the mRNA vaccine. This was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics , JAMA, last month. Breastfeeding women were largely excluded from mRNA trials and so while infants younger than six months are not being advised to receive mRNA vaccines the passage of these vaccines into breast milk, resulting in infants’ exposure at younger than six months was not investigated. While thus far only trace amounts have been detected and not in all instances – though it was over 50% in the JAMA peer-reviewed study - it would be nice if the manufacturers of these vaccines would address the issue with clinical trials. I am sure the breastfeeding mothers would appreciate a level of certainty around this area.

I must give a shout out to an organisation and its volunteers that I know really well, namely, Blood Bikes East. It is a dedicated team of motorcycle drivers who are transporting breast milk as well as blood from all over the country and all across Dublin by bike to hospitals and babies in the Rotunda Maternity Hospital. This is in instances where the mother is critically unwell, being cared for in the Mater and their premature baby in the Rotunda needs his or her mother's milk. Lisa Carroll, who is the Rotunda’s lead midwife in the lactation team, said the breast milk, which is often hand-expressed by the mother, gives vulnerable babies a fighting chance. It goes to show the importance of breast milk and I agree with the calls in this motion to support and promote the practice in this country for the betterment of future generations.

I absolutely support breastfeeding at birth but we must not shame those who are unable to do it, and for many reasons young women may not be able to breastfeed. Breast is best but there should not be any shaming around those who cannot breastfeed.

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