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Breastfeeding Week Highlights Breastmilk Benefits

1 August 2002 Media Statement

Benefits of breastmilk highlighted in World Breastfeeding Week


Health Minister Annette King says that World Breastfeeding Week, which begins today, is a timely reminder of the need to improve the level of breastfeeding in New Zealand.

Ms King and Health Select Committee member and Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick say only half of all New Zealand babies are fully breastfed at three months old.

“Breastfeeding has important health benefits for both babies and mothers. Breastfed babies have fewer childhood illnesses and hospital admissions than babies who have been artificially fed,'' Ms King said today.

“Breastfeeding is a cheap, effective, important contribution towards children's health in the first years of life. It is something we should all encourage.''

Ms King said that later this year the Ministry of Health would launch its Breastfeeding Action Plan, which outlines steps the Ministry and other key health sector organisations will be taking to improve breastfeeding statistics.

“While there are many social and societal issues affecting a woman's decision to breastfeed, I want to ensure that health professionals like well child nurses, lactation consultants and midwives provide all the encouragement, support and professional advice that will allow women and their babies to get off to the best possible start.''

Steve Chadwick, a former midwife, said breastfeeding was not just about mothers and babies. “It's about all of us. We need to better promote breastfeeding-friendly social and physical environments so women feel comfortable about one of the most natural things a mother can do.''

Ms King said the action plan was expected to identify current breastfeeding rates and recommend new breastfeeding rate national targets for babies aged six weeks, three months and six months.


Background

The nutritional benefits of breastmilk:
- It meets the full term baby's complete nutritional needs for the first four to six months of life
- It is readily available with no heating required
- It has low risk of bacterial contamination
- It is low cost
- There is less risk of over or under feeding
- It contains optimal ratios of the fatty acids required for eye and brain development
- The nutrients in human milk are more bio-available than in infant formula.

Other benefits for the baby include:
- Reducing the risk of infectious disease such as meningitis, gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections because it contains maternal antibodies
- Reduces the risk of food allergy.

Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother are that it:
- Speeds up the contraction of the uterus back to its normal size after birth
- Provides emotional and physical satisfaction to the mother and may help the mother to return to her pre-pregnancy weight
- Does not require preparation or storage
- Exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding may help to space pregnancies
- Reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.

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