A breastfeeding group is training counsellors in trauma as women suffer long-term effects from lack of support, the Oireachtas Health Committee heard on Wednesday.
About 100 volunteers work with Cuidiú in 26 branches around the country. Breastfeeding expert from the organisation, Geraldine Cahill, said their role has changed over the past decade.
She said: “Cuidiú and the other groups have been working steadily in this area over many years now with support from the HSE. We would note however that the funding has been decreased whilst expectations grew.”
Asked by Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall what the impact of not getting breastfeeding support can be, Ms Cahill said it can be life-long.
“It is definitely an issue. At the moment Cuidiú is creating a programme to train our breastfeeding counsellors in trauma. We are looking at that for parents, it is not something we would have had to do 20 years ago,” she said.
Her colleague Fiona Rea told Solidarity - People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny that in some cases post-natal depression can be “driven” by a woman’s negative experiences around birth.
On Tuesday, health minister Stephen Donnelly announced additional funding to the HSE of €1.58m to fund 24 additional lactation consultants nationally.
In New Zealand, the ratio of lactation consultants to births are 0.27/1,000 community births and 0.77/1,000 hospital births. To equal this based on the number of Irish births, there should be 64 in Ireland.
The HSE has the equivalent of 30.5 full-time staff in place and 9.5 in recruitment, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said. This is slightly higher than was previously understood due to people doing part-time hours.
Many lactation consultants are also midwives, Ms Cahill said, and an individual may be torn between attending one patient during her labour while attending another who is breastfeeding.
She said: “That joint role is muddying the waters.”
Cuidiú volunteers sit on the boards of some maternity hospitals, but not all. She said the return of antenatal classes post-Covid has been slow, saying Cork University Maternity Hospital only re-started last week as one example.
The Committee was also addressed by Bainne Beatha, also a voluntary breastfeeding support group. They called for better implementation of the National Maternity Strategy.
Co-founder Megan Etherton said women speak of frustration of not being heard by hospital officials.