Booze ban bid for Birthcare maternity hospital

One of New Zealand's biggest maternity hospitals is battling official attempts to ban it from serving wine to parents celebrating a baby's birth.

Birthcare Maternity Hospital offers a glass of wine or low-alcohol beer as part of its menu and in December applied to renew its liquor licence.

Auckland's medical officer of health unsuccessfully challenged the decision, first before the district licensing committee and then in an appeal to the New Zealand Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority. The challenge expressed concern that mothers might have a tipple before breastfeeding.

Now the Auckland District Health Board has announced it will appeal the case further, to the High Court - despite police and the district licensing committee's inspector expressing confidence that Birthcare is a responsible licensee.

Birthcare is a Parnell hospital where about 400 births occur each year and another 4000 patients are transferred, after giving birth in Auckland's public hospitals, for three days of post-natal care.

Birthcare general manager Ann Hanson defended the hospital's longstanding policy of offering alcohol with meals.

"There's a very big highlighted sign on the menu saying we recommend that those breastfeeding don't drink alcohol," she said.

An Auckland District Health Board spokeswoman said:"The medical officer of health is bringing this appeal because the evidence is clear that the consumption of alcohol harms unborn and newborn infants and considers that the decision to grant the licence to Birthcare is inconsistent with the alcohol legislation whose object is to minimise harm."

Alison Stanton, breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League director, warned alcohol could be dangerous when breastfeeding.

"Alcohol passes freely into the mother's milk and is found to peak at 30 to 60 minutes after consumption and 60 to 90 minutes when taken with food," she said. "It takes a 120-pound [54kg] woman two to three hours to eliminate one serving of wine or beer and the more alcohol that is consumed, the longer it takes to be eliminated."

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The riskiest time to drink was when the baby was newborn, she said.

That assertion was questioned by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority: it said alcohol could be harmful for pregnant women, but the evidence was equivocal for nursing mothers.

 - Sunday Star Times

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