'Breastapo' attacks formula-feeding mums

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 02/09/2012

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Auckland Women's Hospital is defending its breast and bottle feeding policies following an uproar over "breastapo" in New Zealand maternity wards.

An expectant mother recently complained that Auckland Hospital sent her a letter saying she must do her own research and bring her own bottles and formula if she chooses to bottle-feed.

"I find it abhorrent to think I might get to hospital and be refused help feeding my baby because my body's mechanics don't fit with the hospital's philosophy.

"Surely the most important thing is the baby's immediate health?"

Her concerns were reported alongside those of Christchurch and Wellington mothers who said their babies lost more than a tenth of their body weight before formula was given.

Wellington mum Amy, who could not breast-feed because her milk never came in, said there was no support or information provided about formula while she was pregnant.

Christchurch mum Jess Schulz said having to sign a hospital permission form to use formula made her feel like a bad mother.

She said she was also judged by strangers, including one woman who told her "if you can't breastfeed don't breed."

The women both desperately wanted to breastfeed, but were struck by feelings of guilt when they were  physically unable to.

An Auckland District Health Board spokesman said there were no specific rules pertaining to the amount of weight a baby had to lose before it could be given formula.

"There is a lot more to consider when giving formula than just weight, the whole clinical picture and wellbeing of the mother and baby needs to be considered before that decision is made."

If a baby is losing weight the hospital will consider a range of options, not just switching to formula, he said.

Although women who choose to bottle-feed are asked to bring their own equipment, formula is available in the neo-natal ward for mothers unable to breastfeed.

Auckland Now requested copies of hospital bottle-feeding policies at the three main centres after numerous women complained of being labelled bad mothers for not being able to breastfeed.

Auckland Women's Hospital's policy focuses on "promoting, protecting and supporting" breastfeeding.

Mothers have the right to make fully informed decisions on how they feed their baby, the policy reads.

Staff are also not to discriminate against any woman who decides to solely formula feed.

The postnatal wards no longer supply bottles and teats.

District health boards set their own policies on breast and bottle feeding, but hospitals must also comply with the global baby friendly initiative.

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Hospitals have been criticised for some of the audit requirements under the initiative, including the fact health care professionals are banned from discussing formula unless the mother raises it privately.

Capital and Coast district health board also provided its policies on baby feeding, which were similar to Auckland DHB.

The main difference was that mothers are not required to sign permission forms to bottle-feed babies at Capital and Coast DHB facilities.

Instead, verbal permission must be gained and all the risks discussed.

Once a mother makes a decision to bottle-feed it must be marked in her notes so she is not continually questioned about her decision.

The furore over mothers' feeding choices sparked a flood of comments from other mums who had faced similar dramas.

One mother said the "breastapo" went too far when she could not produce milk while another mum complained the pressure to breastfeed contributed to her postnatal depression.

Another woman commented: "I was brow beaten by the lactation consultant and made to feel I was a bad mother. Turned out, I had breast cancer."

Many parents expressed anger at the permission form they must sign to bottle-feed, with some saying they felt like it was admitting they were a bad parent.

Auckland District Health Board permission form:

- A breast milk substitute (formula) is needed or has been request by you for your baby. It is important that your read the following information to help you understand the effects this may have on your baby.

- The World Health Organisation recommends all babies, wherever possible, are exclusively breasted for six months until the gut and immune systems are fully developed.

- Where a breast milk substitute is needed as a treatment your consent is needed.

- Doctors recommend breast milk to parents, as this helps to strengthen the baby's body and immune system.

- Formula is a cow's milk product which may increase the risk of allergies and other illness affecting the gut of your baby.

- Regular use of formula has been shown to decrease the milk supply of breastfeeding mothers.

I have read and understand the above information and give consent for a breast milk substitute being given to my baby.

- Auckland Now

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