Christchurch mum Jess Schulz wanted to breast-feed. She persevered, painfully, for five weeks, but eventually had to decide between switching to formula or her baby going hungry.
“We spent hundreds of dollars on everything - pumps, drugs and teas - but he wasn't gaining any weight. It was horrible. I would sit there in tears because he was hungry but he just wasn't getting milk,” Schulz told the Sunday Star-Times.
She had raised the subject of bottle-feeding at her antenatal class and was told it had to be spoken about in private rather than in front of everyone. Other mums have said they were also told it was a no-go subject at classes.
In Schulz's case, her son lost almost a 10th of his body weight in hospital and she had to sign a permission form to bottle-feed him.
“The form makes you feel like a bad parent, it's really demoralising to have to ask to feed your baby. You feel guilty enough as it is that you can't do the ‘right' thing.”
While family supported her decision to bottle-feed, some strangers were not so accepting.
One woman told her “if you can't feed your child you shouldn't breed”, while another called formula "evil".
The Sunday Star-Times has also learnt of mothers being verbally abused, parents getting into heated confrontations with nurses, and another woman claiming she was kicked out of hospital over bottle-feeding.
The Ministry of Health recommends babies are exclusively breast-fed until the age of six months to "lay the foundations of a healthy life".
Plunket statistics show 85 per cent of mothers now breast-feed. No one disputes that breast-feeding is preferred, but many women say there is too little support for bottle-feeding.
An expectant mother said she was shocked to read a hospital's “draconian policies” that said parents had to do their research and bring their own bottle and formula.
“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."
Wellington mum Amy, who could not breast-feed because her milk never came in, said no-one informed her about formula during pregnancy.
“It makes me so mad because so many people have these issues and when it happens there's no support. The amount of guilt about my decision was huge.
"I'm still trying to figure out why I felt so guilty about it. If I didn't bottle-feed her she would have starved to death.”
Some hospital staff were “brutal” in promoting breastfeeding.
“All I got was ‘you could breast feed if you tried harder'. Actually, I physically couldn't do it.”
Mother-of-three Rena Pishief said parents deserve to be supported regardless of how they choose to feed their children.
She was unable to breast-feed her 5-month-old son after suffering from pneumonia so called Plunket for help. She said she was given a lecture for not breast-feeding.
“Society and the health system has really embraced the ‘breast is best' message. We've taken that to heart, but it can be really hard if breast-feeding doesn't come easy.”
NZ College of Midwives chief executive Karen Guilliland said that in exceptional cases women cannot breast-feed. Sometimes women give up too easy, she said, but it was unacceptable for a midwife to make the mum anxious.
"We all need to work at making the woman feel confident with her decision, whatever that it is."
All Blacks star Piri Weepu raised controversy when pictured bottle-feeding his 6-month-old daughter in an anti-smoking advertisement earlier this year. The footage was cut from the advert after La Leche League, a pro-breast-feeding organisation, said it undermined the Government campaign promoting breast-feeding.
La Leche spokeswoman Lisa Manning said they helped mothers regardless of their feeding choices. “We don't tell people what to do.”
Breast surgery, back surgery or injuries, hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, and thyroid diseases can all cause problems for women wanting to breast-feed.
Plunket did not respond to requests for comment.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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