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Session 1: Public health nutrition Breast-feeding practices in Ireland: Symposium on ‘The challenge of translating nutrition research into public health nutrition’

  • Roslyn C. Tarrant (a1) and John M. Kearney (a1)


Breast-feeding is the superior infant feeding method from birth, with research consistently demonstrating its numerous short- and long-term health benefits for both mother and infant. As a global recommendation the WHO advises that mothers should exclusively breast-feed for the first 6-months of life, thus delaying the introduction of solids during this time. Historically, Irish breast-feeding initiation rates have remained strikingly low in comparison with international data and there has been little improvement in breast-feeding duration rates. There is wide geographical variation in terms of breast-feeding initiation both internationally and in Ireland. Some of these differences in breast-feeding rates may be associated with differing socio-economic characteristics. A recent cross-sectional prospective study of 561 pregnant women attending a Dublin hospital and followed from the antenatal period to 6 months post partum has found that 47% of the Irish-national mothers initiated breast-feeding, while only 24% were still offering ‘any’ breast milk to their infants at 6 weeks. Mothers' positive antenatal feeding intention to breast-feed is indicated as one of the most important independent determinants of initiation and ‘any’ breast-feeding at 6 weeks, suggesting that the antenatal period should be targeted as an effective time to influence and affect mothers' attitudes and beliefs pertaining to breast-feeding. These results suggest that the ‘cultural’ barrier towards breast-feeding appears to still prevail in Ireland and consequently an environment that enables women to breast-feed is far from being achieved. Undoubtedly, a shift towards a more positive and accepting breast-feeding culture is required if national breast-feeding rates are to improve.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Dr John Kearney, fax +3531 402 2833, email email


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