Demand for HSE’s breastfeeding experts increases by 57% due to COVID-19

breastfeeding week 2020

HSE Media Release: 30 September 2020

Today, (Thursday, 1st October 2020) marks the start of HSE National Breastfeeding Week with the news that the HSE’s ‘Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert’ online service recorded a 57 per cent increase in demand over recent months as parents of babies born during COVID-19 restrictions sought online advice.

The figures compare queries made to the breastfeeding support service between April and August against the same period in 2019. There were 567 live chats (up 35% from 419 in the five-month period in 2019) and 1,121 emails were answered (a 71% increase from 652 in 2019).

Part of, the site includes extensive breastfeeding information, videos and guides as well as the ‘Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert’ service plus wider pregnancy and child health information. A team of lactation consultants provide free personalised advice to users by email and live chat.

The most popular queries received by the service during this time included: how to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant, how to restart breastfeeding after a break and issues around pain and breastfeeding.

The support options available online are being highlighted as part of this year’s National Breastfeeding Week, which runs from today until next Wednesday, 7th October.

The ‘Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert’ online service is available seven days a week with the live chat service available Monday to Friday from 10 am to 3 pm. It was established in 2014.

Other supports have been developed during the pandemic, with a number of hospital antenatal breastfeeding classes and some breastfeeding groups run by the HSE and voluntary organisations moving online. Over 70 virtual breastfeeding support group meetings were held online in August. Phone and virtual breastfeeding support is also being made available to replace face-to-face appointments as services try to re-establish safely, while face-to-face one-to-ones are being provided where needed. 

HSE National Breastfeeding Coordinator Laura McHugh said:

“Parents who welcomed new babies in 2020 never expected to do so during a pandemic. We understand the past seven months have been hugely challenging for families in accessing face-to-face breastfeeding support in communities. I want to acknowledge the efforts by HSE staff and particularly the many breastfeeding volunteers who have continued to provide virtual and phone support during this time.

 “While mothers continue to be supported during their hospital stay and at home, the increase in queries to the ‘Ask Our Breastfeeding Expert’ service coincided with reduced face-to-face contact with other healthcare professionals. Important sources of breastfeeding information and advice such as antenatal classes and breastfeeding support groups had to be cancelled so the online support service is proving more popular than ever.

“Nothing can fully replace the face-to-face experience, but the impact of COVID-19 restrictions has underlined the vital role of online support for parents. We saw an increase in the number of queries from those who were pregnant and also from people who wanted to start breastfeeding again having stopped for a time. For example, one mother contacted the service on two occasions for advice whilst considering stopping breastfeeding and on returning to work during the summer; because of lockdown it meant she had more time at home and was able to breastfeed longer than she had originally intended to.”

Hospital data from 2019 shows that 63.7 per cent of babies in Ireland (in 2019) are breastfed on leaving hospital. This represents a 13% increase since 2007.

Ms McHugh says that mothers’ experiences of feeding in hospital and the community is improving:  “Hospital and community services are working to deliver more breastfeeding support to mothers, particularly over the last few months. This includes providing antenatal education classes online, virtual one-to-one consultations in the home and phone support, while continuing antenatal and postnatal face-to-face consultations for mothers and babies where needed.”

“Having a new baby is life-changing and breastfeeding is a skill that takes time and practice to master. In the early days, skin-to-skin contact and keeping your baby close to you will help you recognise the signals they make to tell you they are hungry or want a cuddle. This will help you settle into a rhythm together. Responding to your baby’s needs helps them feel secure while supporting their brain development. We want to let mothers know about supports available on to help them to breastfeed for as long as they wish.”

HSE National Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1st to 7th October. To join the HSE parenting and breastfeeding community, see the HSE Facebook page and hse_mychild on Instagram #hsemychild #breastfeeding #breastfeedingweek