Nurses at the Warkworth Birthing Centre are on hand to provide breastfeeding mothers with guidance and reassurance. Nurse Michelle Ryan is pictured with Lily Hewitt and her two-day old son Blake.
World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7
Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and yet, 42 per cent of Kiwi infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months.
Department of Health figures show that 76 per cent of all New Zealand babies are exclusively breastfed at two weeks, but this figure drops to only 58 per cent by six months.
Warkworth Birthing Centre midwife Donna Hamilton says the drop probably reflects the amount of leave mothers are able to take before they have to return to work.
She says the optimum length of time to breastfeed is six months, but this is not always possible for all mothers.
A mother is entitled to 12 months’ parental leave, receiving parental leave payments for 26 weeks of this time, but financial obligations and other demands often see mothers returning to work when the parental leave payments stop.
Mothers can return to work at any time if an employer is given 21 days’ notice and they can also ask for reduced hours until their baby is one year old.
“For many mothers, their breastfeeding options are strongly influenced by when they have to return to work,” Donna says.
Options that allow working mothers to continue to breastfeed include expressing and storing breast milk so that baby can be fed by someone else or having the baby looked after somewhere near to work so that they can be brought in to work at feed times.
By law, an employer must allow a mother unpaid breaks to breastfeed her baby or express milk at work, and must provide facilities to do this. This includes a quiet and private place to feed or express milk, and a fridge to store the milk.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that an infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.
Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Midwife Donna Hamilton says some mothers mistakenly think that baby formulas are easier.
“Breastfeeding can be challenging for some mothers in the beginning, but in the long-term it is safer and more convenient.”