Wellington City Council has confirmed it will ban mothers from breastfeeding babies in the water at pools, saying the feeding poses a contamination risk.

Earlier this year Rebecca Robertson was left shocked when she was told she couldn't breastfeed her 20-month-old son in the shallows of a pool in Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie. She was told it breached the food and beverage policy.

The ejection put the council in the spotlight, prompting a call to review the approach to make sure it was fair, reasonable and aligned with best practice.

At the same time council staff looked into the situation, it was discovered WCC had no parenting rooms open across its library and community centres.


Furthermore, a parenting room at council headquarters on The Terrace was turned into a massage room with the view that mums needing to breastfeed or express could use the first aid room instead.

The details come from correspondence released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

Wellington City Council has no parenting rooms open across its Library and Community Centres. Photo / Nikki Williams
Wellington City Council has no parenting rooms open across its Library and Community Centres. Photo / Nikki Williams

A new policy has been created for staff when asking a customer not to breastfeed in the water, although a council spokesman said the incident in Kilbirnie was almost unheard of.

The policy says staff should cite the reasons of national pool water quality standard requirements - and the heightened risk of vomiting resulting in pool closure.

"I know there is increased debate now on this subject in the industry but until any change in classification of baby vomit being separated from older people vomit in the standard, I would consider the above a reasonable step for us to take to minimise the likelihood of pool closure", the council's Community Pools manager said in an email.

Messaging will also be put on the council's website and included in existing pool rules notices: "We welcome breastfeeding anywhere public at our pools, however due to health and safety reasons please do not breastfeed in the pool."

The council said it sought advice from a lactation consultant to confirm this conclusion.

La Leche League NZ national coordinator Janine Pinkham said it was disappointing the council hadn't observed the "human rights of the mother to be able to breastfeed wherever she's allowed to be".


When asked about whether baby vomit would pose a risk to hygiene, Pinkham referred to it as "spill".

"Babies spill and they usually spill every feed, it doesn't matter how they've been fed. So a couple of little drops of baby milk is not going to be cause for emptying out the whole pool, surely?

"It doesn't bear thinking about the other types of products that end of in the pool - a little few drops of urine is not going to be noticeable, and we have chlorine, that's what we use to cater for that sort of thing."

Robertson said she was sceptical of the reasoning behind the council's stance and wanted to see evidence.

"If indeed breast milk does interfere with water quality there are many more questions generated. I'm wondering what this might mean for lactating women who commonly leak? It would be very interesting to see how banning lactation would be enforced."

Council turns parents room into massage room

Correspondence released on the breastfeeding review also revealed a parents' room at council headquarters was turned into a massage room.


The thinking was that any mum needing to breastfeed or express milk could use the first aid room instead.

"I'm just hoping we don't get into a situation where there is someone unwell in this room and then a mum needing to use it. Probably best for any mum to first check if the parents room is available, I can't remember exactly how many days a week it is out of action with the massages", Community Services manager Jenny Rains wrote in an email.

The parents room at Wellington City Council's headquarters has been turned into a massage room. Photo / Google
The parents room at Wellington City Council's headquarters has been turned into a massage room. Photo / Google

A council spokesman said the room was only used for massages a couple of lunchtimes a week, and being on level 16 of a building on The Terrace, it was less frequented than the room on the ground floor of the council's former Civic Square premises.

But it's not the only location without a dedicated parents' room.

When council staff were looking into messaging around breastfeeding it was suggested a map of parent rooms could be included.

But it turned out there were no parents' rooms open across council Library and Community Centres, although two are due to open in December and in the new year.


Email correspondence shows one staffer wondered if a map was a good idea if WCC only had two.

"While it is a cool idea I wonder if it's too involved to research what private ones are available across the city".

Another staffer agreed saying: "I assumed we had at least 10 or so sites, if we only have a few then I would suggest this is just mentioned in text on the website".

A council spokesman said any staff member in the council's libraries or community centres would be happy to find a private space for a mother wanting to breastfeed if they asked.

Community wellbeing portfolio leader councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said there needed to be better parenting facilities throughout the city to make sure it was genuinely family-friendly.

The council should lead by example in its own headquarters.

"This is a new modern council facility on The Terrace in Wellington, it's simply not good enough that there's not a dedicated parents' space here."