Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Mums win rule change on meals

Waikato District Health Board changes policy so all mothers of sick babies will be fed by hospital

Cath Battersby was refused meals when her son Alex was sick as a newborn and she was unwell. Photo / Christine Cornege
Cath Battersby was refused meals when her son Alex was sick as a newborn and she was unwell. Photo / Christine Cornege

Two mothers of sick babies in hospital have spoken out about being refused meals because they weren't breastfeeding.

The women were staying with their sick newborns at Waikato Hospital but because they were bottlefeeding they did not qualify for meals.

They complained to Waikato District Health Board over the policy but were dismayed to read a Herald article this week about a 32-year-old mother who didn't qualify for meals at the hospital, where she was staying with her sick 5-month-old.

Waikato District Health Board now says it has changed the policy so that all mothers staying with their sick babies are fed, regardless of whether they are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding.

Cath Battersby's 10-day-old son Alex was admitted to the children's ward at Waikato Hospital with viral meningitis on January 1 this year.

Mrs Battersby was not well after suffering severe mastitis late in her pregnancy and she had been advised by a specialist not to breastfeed.

In her complaint the 34-year-old said it was "totally unacceptable" that with a very ill newborn, a legitimate medical reason for not breastfeeding and still recovering from a difficult birth, she was expected to walk up to the cafeteria for food.

"I was not prepared to leave Alex alone when he was so ill and young to go and get food and so I had to wait for my husband to come up, which was difficult as he was trying to care for our toddler.

"I think it's really unfair and I don't think it's in the best interests of the baby or the mother."

Another woman, who did not want to be named, said her 4-week-old son was admitted to a ward in August last year with sleep apnoea.

The 32-year-old struggled to breastfeed because she did not have enough milk and had to use formula.

"I had a meal put in front of me and was told 'This is a spare meal, you can have this', then it was taken away from me because I wasn't breastfeeding."

On one occasion two nurses argued in front of her about whether she qualified for a meal.

She said when her son was sleeping she "literally ran" to the cafeteria or "went hungry".

Waikato DHB director of nursing and midwifery Sue Hayward said the policy had now been changed and all mothers would receive meals.

Mrs Hayward said the policy had been under review since earlier this year and a directive was set to change it.

"We had anticipated that had been put in place but clearly it hadn't and following on from the complaint we've followed that up."

She said the reason for the old policy was that breastfeeding mothers needed more nutrition.

"If you're bottlefeeding it doesn't mean to say you are caring for your child any less or giving them any less value within the food they're getting but the mother themself doesn't need to have the focus on nutrition."

Mrs Hayward said the issue was "fraught with emotion" and there was no need to put extra pressure on mothers who already had the stress of a sick child to deal with.

"We need these mums ... to look after their babies and don't want them to have to leave the cotside."

The new policy would provide for the carer of babies up to 12 months old. The extra meals are estimated to cost $109,000 per year.

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