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Damien O'Connor: Plan of Action for Breastfeeding

19 March, 2008
Speech at launch of National Plan of Action for Breastfeeding

Damien O'Connor

Kia ora and welcome to today's celebratory morning tea.

Thank you for taking an hour to come and help celebrate a number of milestones we've reached towards protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in New Zealand.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Randa Saadeh here today. Randa is from the World Health Organisation in Geneva. She is responsible for breastfeeding and infant and young child nutrition. Randa is also responsible for the development, implementation and monitoring of the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding as well as expanding and strengthening the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which was developed by WHO. Thank you for being here today.

I'd also like to acknowledge Norma Campbell, the chair of the National Breastfeeding Advisory Committee and other members of the committee who are here. The committee has spent a number of hours working on the National Breastfeeding Strategic Plan of Action, which is being launched this morning for wider public comment. The New Zealand Breastfeeding Authority is also launching some important Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative documents. Welcome to you also.

You may be aware that I recently took over the Healthy Eating - Healthy Action delegation or HEHA as it’s known, as part of my role as Associate Minister of Health.

Usually my colleague Steve Chadwick deals with breastfeeding but she couldn't be here today so I'm here instead. So babies and breastfeeding and HEHA are both new areas for me, but the amount of excellent work going on to not only improve breastfeeding rates but to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and reduce obesity amongst New Zealanders makes them both areas if a lot of exciting progress.

There's a strong link between breastfeeding and HEHA. Breastfeeding babies is the best possible start we can give them. As you are well aware, breastfeeding is important for babies' growth, development and health. It provides optimum nutrition, assists physical and emotional development, protects against infectious disease and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity. Breastfeeding is also important for the mother's health.

Breastfeeding rates at birth in New Zealand are pretty good. In 2006, about 66 per cent of babies were exclusively breastfed at six weeks of age. Our aim is to increase that to 74 per cent. But there's a decline in breastfeeding rates throughout the first year of a child's life.

For Kiwi women, the main factors causing this decline are a lack of support in the first few weeks of breastfeeding and returning to work.

The Government is committed to improving breastfeeding rates and there are a number of initiatives underway aimed at creating supportive environments for breastfeeding.

These initiatives will be guided by the National Strategic Plan of Action for Breastfeeding.

DHBs are also required to develop a breastfeeding action plan for their district this year as part of the implementation of HEHA.

Even so, ten years ago, the picture was very different from today. Non-government organisations like La Leche League have been active in New Zealand for a while now. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and the Baby Friendly Community Initiative have now been established and are integral components of the work to improve the breastfeeding environment in New Zealand.

In the next month or so, the Ministry of Health will also be launching a revised version of its Food and Nutrition Guidelines for 0-2 year olds. This key document forms part of the policy base for the breastfeeding work.

And the good news just keeps coming. In June this year, the Ministry's HEHA Project team will be beginning a breastfeeding social marketing campaign to improve breastfeeding rates, by encouraging families and whanau of breastfeeding women to support their partners, daughters, sisters, aunties and friends to breastfeed, and continue to breastfeed.

Over the past week, the provider undertaking this campaign has run a series of stakeholder hui and reference group meetings, which some of you may have taken part in. These have been held to help develop some key messages for the campaign.

The campaign will be targeting Maori and Pacific mums and their families, as well as high need population groups. It is anticipated that this campaign will go a long way to improving breastfeeding rates in New Zealand and continuing to improve supportive breastfeeding environments.

It is wonderful to have Randa here today. Her experience and knowledge of breastfeeding and infant and young child nutrition is invaluable and I hope there is plenty of information sharing this week as you have the opportunity to meet and talk with Randa.

I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in New Zealand and I look forward to seeing the success continue in the coming months and years.

Thank you.


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