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QUB calls on new Northern Ireland mums to help scientists' latest research on breast milk

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Dr Simon Cameron is heading up the research at Queen’s University

Dr Simon Cameron is heading up the research at Queen’s University

Dr Simon Cameron is heading up the research at Queen’s University

New mums across Northern Ireland are being offered the opportunity to help scientists better understand the miracle of breast milk.

Queen's University in Belfast is asking women to become involved in a series of important studies aimed at increasing breastfeeding rates.

As part of the recruitment drive, the university is taking part in an event at the NI Science Festival this weekend where breastfeeding mums will be invited to express and donate samples for research.

Researchers will also be on hand to speak to mums to find out the best way for them to donate samples in the coming months and years as the university establishes a host of crucial breast milk studies.

The NHS and World Health Organisation recommend that children are breastfed until the age of two and beyond.

Despite this, breastfeeding rates in Northern Ireland are the lowest in the UK.

According to official figures, only 7% of children in Northern Ireland are breastfed past six months.

Scientists at Queen's are hoping to set up a series of projects to improve understanding of breast milk and encourage more mothers in Northern Ireland to breastfeed.

Dr Simon Cameron, who featured in the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Breastfeeding Uncovered, is heading up the research.

"We are looking at long-term studies and we want to speak to mums about how they might like to be involved in our ongoing research and how best they can comfortably donate milk on a regular basis," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Dr Cameron said there are numerous different areas the team are hoping to examine, including how breast milk adapts to protect newborn babies from infection.

Scientists believe there is a connection between the saliva in the baby's mouth and the breast tissue which alerts the mum when their baby has come into contact with bacteria.

Women then produce milk with antibodies that help protect the baby from infection.

"Mums can develop antibodies that can pass through the milk," continued Dr Cameron.

"For me that's one of the most fascinating areas, this chemical molecular bond between the newborn and the mother.

"Mums' bodies also detect changes in temperature and produce more water in the milk to keep baby hydrated."

The Queen's academic added: "We understand that these things happen, but we don't really understand the mechanism that allows this to happen.

"We really want to build up breastfeeding as a really valuable exercise and it's really about building up the evidence base to do this."

Dr Cameron is appearing at this weekend's event at the invitation of Breastival, which is hosting two talks on breast milk.

The second Breastival event will feature Dr Lesley Dornan from Ulster University and Breastival co-founder Dr Jennifer Hanratty, who will describe different cultures' attitudes to breastfeeding.

Breastival, which has been held since 2016 and is back for a second year at this weekend's NI Science Festival, aims to normalise what has sometimes been a controversial subject in Northern Ireland.

Ms Hanratty explained: "We know that culture has a big influence on how families choose to feed their babies.

"In Northern Ireland, where bottle feeding is the norm, it seems that we don't really value breastfeeding."

She added: "So, when women face challenges, because breastfeeding isn't always easy, support comes in the form of a bottle and breastfeeding is instantly undermined."

Tickets for both talks, which take place at the Black Box this Saturday, are available by logging on to the NI Science Festival website.

Further information can be found by logging on to www. nisciencefestival.com

Belfast Telegraph