Bottlefeeding mums react against meal rules
Claire Sword was unable to breastfeed her baby boy, but still anticipated a free meal as she sat beside his hospital bed.
Other mothers were fed, but Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) rules denied her a free meal because she bottlefed her son.
CDHB child health manager Anne Morgan said when a baby was admitted to hospital, not including the maternity ward, the stress could impact on the mother's ability to lactate properly.
Therefore, because a breastfeeding mother was the source of their baby's nutrition, those with a sick baby up to 6 months old were offered meals to ensure they could continue to feed their baby, she said.
Mothers who bottlefeed are not given free meals save in "exceptional circumstances".
Sword, now 25 and a mother of two, said Lleyton was born with a heart defect and spent his first nine weeks in hospital.
She said once she stopped breastfeeding, because she had a low milk supply and Lleyton did not have the energy to feed properly, she was no longer provided with meals.
During the next few months, Lleyton was in and out of Christchurch Hospital with viral meningitis, fluid on the brain, and for foot surgery and Sword was never given meals because she was bottlefeeding.
Sword called the CDHB's attitude "discriminatory" because often bottlefeeding mothers could not breastfeed.
She said mothers needed energy to care for their children regardless of how they were feeding them.
During one of Lleyton's hospital visits she complained and a nurse got her a meal.
"[But] when your baby is having brain surgery, it's the last thing you are thinking about."
Antonia Hide, whose bottlefed son was admitted to hospital with bronchitis when he was a few months old, agreed it was discrimination.
"I think it's ridiculous. If your child is sick you need to keep up your energy as well whether you are breastfeeding or not, " she said.
"They should be providing for all mothers the same."
Ministry of Health chief adviser child and youth health Pat Tuohy said it was a decision by individual district health boards.
"The ministry believes it's important that hospitals support parents with children in hospital wards as best they can, recognising that these parents are often under considerable stress, and may be reluctant to leave their child's side to get a meal."
He supported the rationale that breastfeeding mothers were prioritised for food in wards because babies depended on them for nutrition.
Morgan said parents could purchase a hospital meal to be delivered to the bedside and free meals were offered in special cases, such as when it was difficult for a parent to leave a child's bedside.