A study is being undertaken to look at why NZ's breastfeeding rates are so low … and dropping.

The rates are declining, particularly for Maori.

In order to try to get to the bottom of this, researchers will obviously speak to new mothers in a bid to find out what the barriers to breastfeeding may be.

But is that approach part of the problem?


In asking a new mum why she's not breastfeeding, or what the barriers may be, is it not shaming her into thinking that by not breastfeeding, she's doing something wrong?

The supporting evidence for breastfeeding is wide and varied.

It's a cost effective strategy for reducing infant mortality and supporting wellbeing, heavily endorsed by the WHO as healthy public policy. But it's just not that achievable for everyone.

Breastfeeding requires a lot of support, it is not purely a mother and baby issue.

There are many factors which enable it to go well or otherwise: how rested the mother is, how supported she is, how well nourished she is, how the birth itself went, how fit and healthy the mother is.

There are emotional and mental factors at play too. A mother struggling post partum is not a mother in a good headspace to embark on the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding.

Our stats in this country show that despite initial breastfeeding rates being high, they decline steeply during the first few months of life. In other words, the desire or ability to breastfeed decreases.

Many substitute feeds with bottle-feeding as the baby gets older. Any new mum who has dealt with mastitis or all manner of breastfeeding dramas knows that often the best course of action is to stop. Although this may not be best for baby, it certainly may be the best outcome for mum.


So in assessing the merit of breastfeeding, whose point of view are we taking it from? The health of the baby? Or the mum? Obviously, both need to play a part.

An exhausted unhealthy or stressed mother, attempting to successfully breastfeed a baby may not be the right course of action for her, and by default, that baby.

There could be any number of factors as to why breastfeeding isn't right for the mother. Most mums have heard the messages around it, and know the stigma attached to it. They're often the first to volunteer up an explanation as to why they're not breastfeeding.

So while I applaud an important health issue being back on the policy agenda, and believe more information around breastfeeding practice is vital, I think it's also important we don't demonise non-breastfeeding mums in the process.