Strict breastfeeding policies in some New Zealand hospitals are not being enforced as heavily in Taranaki.
Recent media articles on mothers who suffered anguish and guilt about bottle-feeding their babies for health reasons sparked a storm of comment, including tales of health officers - dubbed "the breastapo" - bullying mothers into breastfeeding.
It prompted a former midwife to speak out last week about the taboo associated with using formula, as well as rigid breastfeeding policies and healthcare workers bound by rules around the promotion of breastfeeding.
But while the Taranaki District Health Board does promote breastfeeding in order to comply with the World Health Organisation's "baby-friendly" accreditation, an option to use formula is given to mothers.
Maternity and child health clinical services manager Leigh Cleland said if a mother chose to introduce formula during admission, it would be discussed with staff and she would be required to give written consent.
"All decisions around breastfeeding or formula are always made following discussions with the mother and informed consent," she said.
"Parents choosing to artificially feed are supported with their decision and information is provided to ensure they have a good understanding of preparation, necessary equipment and sterilisation techniques."
Formula was also introduced when clinically needed if a baby was experiencing jaundice, low blood sugars or weight loss.
"This is done in consultation with the paediatrician and the mother. Again informed consent is obtained," she said.
Recent cases in Wellington and Christchurch told of two mothers who had experienced guilt when bottle-feeding their babies for health reasons.
Both women's babies lost about a tenth of their body weight in hospital before being given formula.
Baby-feeding policies from other hospitals in New Zealand showed hospitals preferred to give babies donor milk from another woman, before resorting to formula.
Mrs Cleland said that was not the case at Taranaki DHB, but was something it was looking into.
Despite breastfeeding policies being more lenient, latest Taranaki DHB figures show between January and June, only 6 per cent of mothers admitted to Base Maternity Unit were discharged bottle-feeding. To retain WHO baby-friendly accreditation, maternity units must maintain an 80 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate.
According to Plunket statistics, New Zealand's breastfeeding rates for 2011 and 2012 were the highest they had been in 19 years.
Plunket clinical adviser Marianne Grant said 85 per cent of babies up to the age of 6 weeks were getting some breast milk - a 5 per cent increase over the past 10 years.
"Fifty-six per cent of women exclusively breastfeed in the first five weeks and this drops off to 16 per cent by the seventh month," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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