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Breastfeeding and respiratory syncytial virus

02 April 2023
Volume 34 · Issue 4


George Winter looks at recent research into the impact breastfeeding can have on the prevention of severe respiratory syncytial virus in infants

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2022), breastfeeding is essential for child survival and health, yet ‘it is estimated that inadequate breastfeeding is responsible for 16% of child deaths each year’. While the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF, 2023) notes that breastfeeding initiation in the UK stands at 81%, Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) reported that the breastfeeding initiation rate in maternity hospitals in Ireland is among the lowest in the world at 63.8% (HSE, 2020).

However, Irish researchers are meeting the challenge of increasing breastfeeding rates while also addressing the role of breastfeeding in mitigating the effects of infections like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) among infants.

Culturally embedded attitudes such as embarrassment about breastfeeding in public and adherence to deep-rooted societal norms can blunt the beneficial impact of public health initiatives on breastfeeding. But deprivation can also contribute to suboptimal levels of the practice, with Limerick city in the west of Ireland having one of the country's lowest rates of breastfeeding. A team led by consultant paediatrician and neonatologist Professor Roy Philip of University Maternity Hospital Limerick analysed inter alia breastfeeding initiation rates over the last 20 years for Ireland's Mid-West region and established evidence-based priorities to improve Irish breastfeeding rates (Philip et al, 2022).

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