Breastfeeding is an important public health issue because it promotes health, prevents disease and helps contribute to reducing health inequalities. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs for healthy growth and development for the first six months of life.


DoH has adopted the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant's life. It is recommended breastfeeding should continue beyond six months, alongside the introduction of appropriate solid foods. Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as giving the baby no other food or drink except breast milk, but the baby can receive vitamin drops and medicine syrups).

Breastfeeding strategy for Northern Ireland (2013-23) (Extended until 2024)

The purpose of 'Breastfeeding - A Great Start: A Strategy for Northern Ireland (2013-23)' is to improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies in Northern Ireland through breastfeeding. It builds on the achievements of the previous breastfeeding strategy for Northern Ireland (1999) and sets out the strategic direction to protect, promote, support and normalise breastfeeding in Northern Ireland for the next ten years. Implementation of the strategy's actions is led by the Public Health Agency through a regional steering group.

In 2022, then Health Minister Robin Swann agreed to extend the Breastfeeding Strategy for a further year until 2024.

Northern Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates across the UK. Information on breastfeeding in Northern Ireland is derived from data collected by the Northern Ireland Maternity System (NIMATS) and the Child Health System (CHS).

Mothers from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to breastfeed. The department also compares the percentage of babies who are breastfeeding at discharge from hospital.

Breastfeeding Strategy Mid-term Review – May 2018

A Breastfeeding Strategy Mid-term Review has been completed which outlines the progress made by May2018 through the Breastfeeding Strategy’s Action Plan.  It assesses and recommends what new actions are needed to be added to the action plan to keep the Strategy fresh and current.

A final review of the current strategy will be completed in 2023/24 in order to inform the way ahead.


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