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HSE National Breastfeeding Week

Expert Help for Every Step of the Way

Oct. 4, 2022


HSE National Breastfeeding Week

Emma Taaffe and baby Oisín with HSE national breastfeeding co-ordinator Laura McHugh ahead of the HSE National Breastfeeding Week from October 1-7. Picture: Mark Stedman

  • Number of babies breastfed is increasing in Ireland
  • 20 new infant feeding/lactation posts recruited in the last two years and 44 available nationwide to support parents
  • Ask the Expert: live chat and e-mail breastfeeding support from an expert available on
  • 110 in-person breastfeeding support groups resumed post-COVID

Tomorrow, (Saturday, 1st October 2022) HSE National Breastfeeding Week begins, encouraging parents to take up free expert help and celebrating rising breastfeeding rates in Ireland. The HSE announced a 5% increase in the number of babies breastfed at the first public health nurse visit between 2019 and 2021, a rise to 59%. The theme of this year’s HSE National Breastfeeding Week is Expert Help for Every Step of the Way.

The HSE has recruited 20 additional infant feeding/lactation posts within nursing and midwifery services to support breastfeeding parents. Midwives are the first to assist with breastfeeding and should mothers need more specialist support, all 19 maternity hospitals now have a specialist lactation support service available. More infant feeding/lactation posts are being recruited to ensure nationwide availability within primary care services. One hundred breastfeeding groups have now resumed meeting in person providing important peer to peer support for parents on their breastfeeding journey.

Laura McHugh, HSE National Breastfeeding Coordinator, celebrates the new posts and the importance of these growing supports:

“While breastfeeding rates are increasing around the country, we want to continue to build on this progress by supporting every parent who may need help on their breastfeeding journey. I welcome our colleagues taking up the new infant feeding/lactation roles around the country, and although not everyone will need their services, their support will make a big difference for parents who do.

“As well as the new posts, we have breastfeeding preparation and antenatal classes, our midwives and public health nurses and a growing number of in-person groups resuming post pandemic. There are also a range of online resources such as virtual breastfeeding groups and, which has practical breastfeeding advice and the ‘Ask Our Expert’ live chat and e-mail breastfeeding support service, available 7 days a week.

“63% of mothers now commence breastfeeding in hospital and we have developed a holistic range of supports to help mothers and babies learning this new skill.”

Anne O’Malley, HSE Public Health Nurse, Community Healthcare Dublin North City and County added: “Every breastfeed makes a difference because any amount of breast milk is beneficial for mother and baby. If a mother can breastfeed for a short amount of time, it will be helpful and the longer you breastfeed the greater protection for mother and baby. We want every mother to know about all the free supports available to help her to breastfeed for longer if she wishes.”

Dundalk mother Sarah Heaphey (30s) was in shock when she went into pre-term labour with her little girl. Sarah focused on expressing her breastmilk for baby Annie to help in the best way she could, while Annie was cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU):

“I attended an antenatal class in the hospital in January at around 33 weeks during which I learned about breastfeeding and thank God I did as 5 days later Annie arrived, almost 7 weeks pre-term. This was a major shock as she wasn’t due until March. Annie had some complications and in the chaos of it all a nurse said to me that the best thing I could do for her was to concentrate on getting my milk for her. It was overwhelming at the beginning but the midwives were so supportive, they sourced me a pump in no time and I was expressing almost straight away. Annie is thriving now at 8 months and we recently received amazing news after her tough first few months of life. I’m delighted I breastfed for as long as I did, and I am certain it benefited her no end. It gave me something to focus on while Annie was in hospital and it was a major way for me to help her.”

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, underlines the importance of the breastfeeding supports and urges breastfeeding mothers to seek help if needed:Expert Help for Every Step of the Way is the theme of this year’s National Breastfeeding Week. An assurance to parents that there are professional and peer supports available when needed at any stage of their breastfeeding journey. The continued investment in this area will help give our children the best start in life by breastfeeding and I would encourage more parents to seek out these supports, either online at through their public health nurse in the community, or in hospital.”

This week, the HSE is sending out information packs to maternity hospitals and primary care centres across the country promoting and the message that expert help is available for parents every step of the way.

National Breastfeeding Week is a HSE-led event, marked each year from 1st to 7th of October. For more information and practical breastfeeding advice, visit

To join the HSE parenting and breastfeeding community, see the HSE Facebook page and hse_mychild on Instagram #hsemychild #breastfeeding #nationalbreastfeedingweek

Breastfeeding is good for babies.

Your breast milk protects your baby against lots of illnesses and conditions. It’s designed to meet your baby’s every need. Breast milk contains antibodies that can help fight infection. Your breast milk contains essential enzymes, hormones and antibodies. These are vital for your baby’s normal growth, development and good health. Breast milk is tailored for your baby and their stage of development. It changes as your baby grows to meet their needs and protects them from illness.

When you come into contact with a virus or bacteria, your body will make antibodies to protect itself. These antibodies are passed into your breast milk so your baby is protected too. Despite years of research, science still can’t replicate this.

Breastfeeding is good for you too, it:

  • helps your uterus (womb) return to normal size more quickly
  • helps you bond with your baby
  • reduces your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes
  • saves you time and money
  • is convenient, no need to carry bottles and formula with you when out and about
  • burns calories and may help you regain your pre-pregnancy weight

Breastmilk is readily available

No purchase necessary and at the right temperature! This is handy, no other feeding supplies needed, and less to pack in your bag every time you go out with your baby.

Build your confidence

Some mothers feel self-conscious breastfeeding in public the first time, particularly when attaching the baby to the breast. This gets easier with time. Most people won’t notice you are breastfeeding, as it looks like you are cuddling your baby.

Bringing your partner or a friend along for support until you become more confident can help. Ask if there is a dedicated feeding area if you want more privacy.

Wear a loose top over a cami top so you can lift up the outer layer and pull down the strappy top. Wearing a nursing bra can help too so you can quickly click it open and attach your baby.

Going to a support group and observing other mothers breastfeeding can help with your confidence. Find your local breastfeeding support group at

Prepare for breastfeeding when you’re pregnant

Classes are available in your hospital to learn about what’s normal for breastfeeding and know what to expect in the first few days and weeks after birth. Here you can learn how to hand express your breast milk, for example. These classes are available online and we look forward to these returning in person as soon as possible.  You’ll also find lots advice on preparing to breastfeed at

Seek out support to help continue breastfeeding

Staying connected with others when you are breastfeeding will help you master the skill and deal with bumps along the road. Maternity hospitals, public health nurses and voluntary support organisations provide face to face, virtual and phone support after your baby is born. If additional support is needed lactation consultants provide specialist help to overcome breastfeeding challenges. Find details of supports available in your area on

Spending lots of time in skin to skin contact with your baby boosts your supply of breast milk and helps bond with and comfort your baby

Have you a breastfeeding question

The HSE’s ‘Ask our breastfeeding expert’ service is available for free on Talk to lactation consultants online for information and advice on any part of breastfeeding via email or live chat. The live chat service is available from Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm at

Breastfeeding rates

  • 63% of mothers try breastfeeding as the first feed after birth in hospital
  • 4.8% increase in the number of babies breastfed at the first public health nurse visit at 58.8% in 2021 up from 54% in 2019.

Increases noted in a number of HSE areas around the country; Donegal, Sligo Leitrim, Galway, Mayo, North Tipperary, Kerry, North Cork, South Lee, Wexford, Dublin South West, Kildare West Wicklow, Laois Offaly, Longford Westmeath, Louth, Meath & Dublin North.

  • 7.3% increase in the number of babies breastfed at 3 months, at 42.3% in 2019 up from 35% in 2015.

Role of the infant feeding/lactation midwife or nurse

  • Midwives and public health nurses are the primary front line staff available in the HSE to support breastfeeding commencing in the antenatal period with the delivery of breastfeeding preparation and antenatal classes.
  • Midwives help mothers to establish breastfeeding in the early days in hospital.  Public health nurses, many of whom are midwives and paediatric nurses continue to support breastfeeding mothers throughout the postnatal period. Every mother is visited by a public health nurse within 72 hours of leaving hospital. Breastfeeding mothers receive follow up support if needed.
  • The role of infant feeding/lactation nurses and midwives in HSE services is to provide a specialist support service to mothers who need extra support to breastfeed e.g. gestational diabetes, caesarean section, premature birth, when baby is medically unwell or has a tongue tie. These staff members also provide breastfeeding education to other staff within HSE services.
  • Mothers can access HSE infant feeding/lactation services through their local maternity hospital or public health nursing service in some areas. Contact details for all HSE breastfeeding support services and HSE funded volunteer breastfeeding support groups can be found here:

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