Breastfeeding; A vital health foundation ignored!

A program about poor health outcomes of New Zealand children due to poverty, which advocates drinking cow’s milk as healthy nutrition but does not mention breastfeeding, though it claims to make a comparison with child health care in Sweden is hardly a ‘special report, rather it is a selective or ill-informed report.

Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are world leaders in the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding, into the second year of life; ” The Swedish approach to infancy and early childhood consciously puts a strong emphasis on prevention and ensuring the best possible support to parents at the beginning of a child’s life, from having 100% of hospitals qualify for UNICEF baby-friendly status, through 98% of mothers initiating breastfeeding”. An international breastfeeding promotional video shows that Norwegian hospitals support breastfeeding initiation by skin-to-skin contact after all births, including cesarean sections whilst the mother is still on the operative table.

All Scandinavian countries have human milk banks as part of their hospital services, so their premature babies, and any other baby in need can have access to donor milk . The lack of a human milk bank in New Zealand is another failure of community support for families in poverty, as poverty is the factor most consistently associated with premature birth. Sweden recognises that the range of additional health risks of babies born ‘too early’ are best prevented, or lessened by the  nutritional, immunological (infection defences) and emotional benefits of breastfeeding or donor milk, as well as skin-to-skin care by their parents.

‘Human milk for human babies‘ is a crucial factor in the health of all children, but especially those from poor households, therefore it is inadequate that the only image of a baby feeding in this ‘investigative report’ was one of bottle feeding. This image and the lack of any reference to breastfeeding would have been  disappointing for the  local organisations trying to promote breastfeeding in the communities discussed.

The MOH acknowledges that; “Breastfeeding and breast milk help protect your baby from chest infections, meningitis, ear infections and urine infections.”  The programme showed children with horrible consequences of repeated chest, and other infections, but made no reference to any lack of access to breast milk or breastfeeding problems for these children, nor the corresponding Swedish priority of a breast milk foundation for their children.

Unlike the provision of school doctors advocated by Mr Bruce, breastfeeding or breast milk costs nothing to provide. Sweden’s support of breastfeeding is a factor in their generous parental leave entitlements, conversely resistance or ambivalence to the ‘26 for babies‘ campaign here is consistent with a general undervaluing of breastfeeding in New Zealand.

In New Zealand the World Health Organisation’s ‘International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes’ (the WHO Code), which seeks to ensure ethical marketing of formula, bottles, teats and dummies worldwide, is diluted and voluntary, unlike in Sweden.  Current New Zealand advertising campaigns promoting “follow-on” formula do not contravene these voluntary requirements though they sabotage efforts to meet the MOH 6 months breastfeeding target and WHO recommendations to continue breastfeeding into the child’s second year of life.

Evidence shows that the longer a baby receives breast-milk, the greater the health benefits for the infant, his mother and family. Stronger guidelines are needed especially to raise the current levels of breastfeeding above 13-14% for Maori or 17-18% for Pacific Islanders; our most vulnerable families. WHO Code evidence strongly suggests that the emergence of new local formula companies touting their products as ‘natural’ or patriotic means that more New Zealand children may suffer the sad fates of those seen in the TVNZ report.

Many mothers who ‘choose‘ to bottle feed are not aware that they are giving their baby modified cow’s milk which is very different to human milk in its content and inability to change according to the baby’s needs as does breastfeeding. Nor is breastfeeding’s ability to reduce the risks of women’s cancers, obesity and osteoporosis, let alone the loss of ‘post-baby fat and tummy” widely acknowledged. Breastfeeding, like birthing, was and is natural for the majority of women, and it was the norm till the formula industry began to be supported by the medical profession in the early 1920′s.

Wet nursing which sustained most children when their mother’s could not produce enough milk, or chose not to breastfeed in the past, appears to being seen and discussed once again, though whether royalty will use them again is doubtful. The informal sharing of breast milk, where there are no milk banks or women have poor supply, is being negotiated mother-to-mother on the Internet and via social media as more women appear to be re-valuing this natural asset despite their community ambivalence and misinformation.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and the Code evidence shows that most women’s inability to breastfeed is a reflection of inappropriate information and inadequate social support for women’s efforts to breastfeed. To help change this in New Zealand please sign-up as an individual and, or group supporter of the Maternity Manifesto seeking public and government support for:

Mother-Baby Unity Care Of All Sick Newborns: The New Zealand “rooming-in” standard for healthy babies and sick children should be applied to the care of sick babies.

Human Milk Banks: New Zealand, like most other countries, should re-establish human milk banks utilizing the high level of screening techniques now available.

Comprehensive Implementation of the WHO Code: To raise the proportion of infants exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months, New Zealand needs to fully adopt the WHO Code on the Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

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Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves and most of us were taught as children we could not be trusted. — John Holt
Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength. — Barbara Katz-Rothman
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