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Work place could help boosting breast feeding

28 July 2005

Media Release

Work place could play role in boosting breast feeding says Health Ministry

A major drop off in breast feeding rates after three months could be improved by more supportive workplaces says Ministry of Health paediatrician Dr Pat Tuohy.

Dr Tuohy’s comments mark the beginning of World Breast Feeding Week (August 1-7) which promotes breast feeding as the preferable first choice for babies and mothers.

While New Zealand's rates of breast feeding are high at birth and compare favourably to other OECD countries, they decline significantly with time. At five to six weeks over 68 per cent of infants are fully breast fed, this drops to about 55 per cent of infants being fully breast fed at three months, while just 24 per cent are fully breast fed from four to six months. (Plunket)

"Breast milk is the ideal food for babies. It meets the full term infants' nutritional requirements for up to the first six months of life. Breast feeding supplies food in a hygienic, cost effective, balanced and convenient way. That is why the Ministry of Health encourages women to breast feed their babies exclusively for the first four to six months of life, if they are in a position to do so."

Dr Tuohy says the reasons for the drop off in breast feeding rates are varied and many women are choosing to return to the workforce while they are still breast feeding their baby.

"Unfortunately it seems breast feeding and working are often mutually exclusive. Women who can extend their breast feeding are those who, in general, are in a position to take longer periods of leave, return to work part time or negotiate with their employers to continue breast feeding their babies while at work.

"Paid Parental Leave gives women more choice and is likely to support women to breast feed longer. That's why we support new guidelines around breast feeding in the workplace developed by the Department of Labour, which are available now."

Dr Tuohy says employers can help mothers who choose to breast feed by being more flexible. He urges them to offer a supportive working environment for breast feeding mothers and urges mothers to think about negotiating with employers to provide such an environment.

"With the economy facing a shortage of skilled labour it's in everyone's interests to ensure those who prefer to carry on with breast feeding can do this as well as work."

For more information on Breast Feeding in the Workplace/An Employer's Guide to Making it Work freephone: 0800 20 90 20 or download from www.ers.dol.govt.nz

ENDS

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