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Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Experts: Extra leave will aid breastfeeding

Dr Susan Morton says a lot of mothers stopped breastfeeding as they felt they didn't have enough milk. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Dr Susan Morton says a lot of mothers stopped breastfeeding as they felt they didn't have enough milk. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Breastfeeding experts are calling for tighter rules on advertising baby formula and more paid parental leave after a study found that only 6 per cent of Auckland and Waikato mothers feed their babies solely breast milk for their first six months.

The Growing Up in NZ study of 6846 babies born in 2009 and 2010 found 94 per cent were given baby formula, other food or water by six months, despite official Ministry of Health advice to breastfeed exclusively "until your baby is ready for and needs extra food - this will be at around six months".

Growing Up director Dr Susan Morton told the Herald the main reasons mothers stopped breastfeeding before six months were that they did not have enough milk (45 per cent) or the baby did not seem satisfied with breast milk alone (32 per cent).

Other reasons included painful breasts (18 per cent), babies having trouble latching on (17 per cent), mothers being at work where they could not easily express milk (15 per cent), baby "weaning itself" (13 per cent) or not gaining enough weight (12 per cent), or someone else had to feed the baby because the mother was not available (11 per cent).

(Mothers could give several reasons).

Lactation consultants said most of these problems were "fixable" if mothers were given more support with breastfeeding.

Lactation Consultants Australia and NZ president Susan Cluitt, who works at Waitakere Hospital, said only about 4 to 7 per cent of mothers did not have enough milk to fully satisfy their babies for at least six months - a lot fewer than an estimate by Growing Up paediatrician Dr Cameron Grant of 10 to 20 per cent.

"Most mums would have enough milk. It's just understanding the difference about how breastfed babies feed," she said.

"They do feed at two-to-four-hourly intervals day and night. Their needs are not higher, they are just normal, and often what happens is we compare them to formula-fed babies who can feed less frequently and can sleep longer at a stretch. That is not the norm."

She said mothers often thought they did not have enough milk at about four months when their babies started waking up and feeding more frequently. But that was because they were going through a growth spurt.

"People have a fixed view about needing to sleep eight to 10 hours a night," she said.

"When things get a bit tricky they give up because they are not prepared to put the work in to things and expect to carry on their lives as if nothing has changed. But, having a baby, things do change."

Infant formula companies have agreed with the Ministry of Health not to advertise formula for babies under six months, but Ms Cluitt said Australia set the age limit at one year.

"It would be a great advance if New Zealand could change to 12 months because breast milk is still a valuable food up to 12 months," she said.

But Infant Nutrition Council chief executive Jan Carey said six months was in line with World Health Organisation guidelines and Australia was "quite unique in restricting marketing up to 12 months".

Ms Cluitt said New Zealand should also learn from countries such as Sweden, which pays mothers up to 80 per cent of their previous incomes for just over a year after babies are born.

New Zealand pays the full value of previous incomes, but only up to $459 a week (45 per cent of the average wage) and only for 14 weeks.

The latest OECD data shows that New Zealand spent proportionately less than any other OECD country on parental leave in 2007 - only 5 per cent of national income per person for each new baby, compared with an OECD average of 29.5 per cent.

BREAST INTENT

Reasons mothers stopped breastfeeding by 6 months:
* 44.8 per cent did not have enough milk.
* 31.5 per cent baby did not seem satisfied by breast milk alone.
* 17.8 per cent had painful breasts.
* 16.8 per cent baby had trouble latching on.
* 14.7 per cent mothers at work and expressing milk not convenient or possible.
* 12.8 per cent baby weaned itself.
* 12.2 per cent baby not gaining enough weight.
* 10.6 per cent someone else had to feed baby because mum not available.
Source: Growing Up in NZ. Multiple answers allowed.

ON THE WEB
www.growingup.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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