Baby formula locked away, bottle-talk banned, and "breastfeeding police" patrolling the wards.
A former midwife has blown the whistle on how rigid breastfeeding policies are putting bureaucracy before babies.
"The ‘baby-friendly' policies are not baby-friendly at all," she said. “No mother should ever be made to feel guilty because she cannot breastfeed.”
The woman spoke out after reading in last week's Sunday Star-Times about the anguish and guilt suffered by mothers who bottle-fed their babies for health reasons.
The woman, who worked as a midwife for more than 30 years, asked not to be named as she still works in healthcare. She recently left midwifery after growing increasingly frustrated she could no longer use her clinical judgement to assist mothers to bottle-feed.
She told of one incident where she hid a formula bottle under her jacket for a new mum to avoid the “breastfeeding police”. “The pressure that is put on mothers to breastfeed is too much. I couldn't believe when they said we couldn't teach the mums how to prepare a bottle in the antenatal period.
“A first-time mum would probably have no idea about safe bottle feeding practices. If they get it wrong the baby can get very ill.”
She said it has gone so far that mothers may rebel and actually increase the rates of bottle-feeding.
Last week, Christchurch mum Jess Schulz told the Star-Times she was made to feel like a bad mother after using formula when her baby failed to gain weight. One stranger told her "if you can't breastfeed, don't breed."
A Wellington mum, Amy, said she was furious that no-one told her about formula during pregnancy. When her milk never came, there was no support.
The article sparked hundreds of responses online, many of them from women complaining of heavy-handed tactics. This included stories of formula being locked up at hospitals, healthcare "breastapo" bullying mothers, and formula turning into a social taboo.
The Ministry of Health said it planned to discuss the issues raised with district health boards.
Senior adviser maternity services, Bronwen Pelvin, said their policy encourages breastfeeding because of the strong evidence it improves the health of the child.
She expected health professionals to support this policy. "However, the Ministry also provides advice to health professionals around those mothers who find breastfeeding difficult."
The ministry contracts the NZ Breastfeeding Authority to audit maternity facilities to be "baby friendly", as part of New Zealand's obligations to the World Health Organisation and Unicef. Nearly all maternity facilities are currently accredited.
Under the baby-friendly policy, mothers must make an “informed decision on feeding”, but formula cannot be discussed during antenatal classes. To retain the baby-friendly accreditation, maternity units must maintain an 80 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate.
Plunket clinical adviser Allison Jamieson denied that Plunket nurses were being too strict with pro-breastfeeding policies. “We don't want women to feel they are being ‘got at', because they're not bad mothers at all".
Breastfeeding rates were at the highest in New Zealand in the 1930s, at almost 90 per cent. A rise in formula advertising in the 1960s led to breastfeeding rates dropping to about 50 per cent.
Since the 1970s the proportion of women breastfeeding has steadily climbed due to the breastfeeding campaign. According to Plunket statistics, 56 per cent of women exclusively breastfeed in the first five weeks. This drops off to 16 per cent by the seventh month.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF BREASTFEEDING
1. Protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
2. Do not give newborn babies any food or drink, other than breastmilk.
3. Bottle feeding shall not be discussed in antenatal classes.
4. If a mother asks about bottle-feeding it must be discussed one-on-one.
5. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers.
6. Help mothers resolve common problems that cause mothers to stop breastfeeding.
7. Only health care workers should demonstrate how to prepare and use formula.
8. Information and educational materials should not use pictures or text that may idealise the use of formula.
9. Only mothers who have decided to use formula may be given information relating to formula when discharged.
10. Refer mothers to breastfeeding support groups, like La Leche League. Source: Ministry of Health and Healthy Baby policies for health care professionals
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