Shame and the Breastfeeding Mother in Ireland

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date

Fall 2021


There has been considerable discussion about why breastfeeding rates in Ireland are the lowest in Europe, perhaps even the lowest globally. Newspaper articles and blogs signal how fraught the topic has become: breastfeeding, or rather its widespread absence, is presented not just as a fact but as a crisis and a site for national self-examination. Why, ask all the newspapers, don't Irish mothers breastfeed? As medical literature and social movements in both western and developing nations argue for the benefits of breastfeeding, Ireland has witnessed a mobilization at both the national and grass-roots level to encourage mothers to nurse their babies. Lady Sabina Higgins now organizes an annual "latching-on" event to raise awareness of low rates in Ireland, and in 2018 she asserted that the global movement for breastfeeding was "probably the most important thing in the world." President Michael D. Higgins has also been involved in the campaign, which included a 2016 presidential Christmas card depicting Mary nursing the infant Jesus. Irish writers, particularly Emma Donoghue and Doireann Ní Ghríofa, have made breastfeeding central in their recent works.