The case for breastfeeding
Tūāhua mō te whāngote
Breastfeeding protects the health of children and whānau, as well as offering economic and environmental benefits (Victora et al 2016; Smith 2019; Walters et al 2019). Increasing breastfeeding rates positively contributes to performance against many systems level measures, in particular preventing ambulatory sensitive (avoidable) hospital admissions (ASH) in children aged 0–4. Breastfeeding is also key to achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030 (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action 2016).
Look at ASH data on the Nationwide Service Framework Library website.
WABA | World Breastfeeding Week. Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development
- Breastfeeding is a natural and low-cost way of feeding babies and children. It is afforable for everyone and does not burden houshold budgets compared to artificial feeding. Breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction.
- Exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond provide high quality nutrients and adequate energy and can help prevent hunger, undernutrition and obesity. Breastfeeding also means food security for infants.
- Breastfeeding significantly improves the health, development and survival of infants and children. It also contributes to improved health and wellbeing of mothers, both in the short and long term.
- Breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding are fundamentals for readiness to learn. Breastfeeding and good quality complementary foods significantly contribute to mental and cognitive development and thus promote learning.
- Breastfeeding is the great equaliser, giving every child a fair and best start to life. Breastfeeding is uniquely a right of women and they should be supported by society to breastfeed optimally. The breastfeeding experience can be satisfying and empowering for the mother as she is in control of how she feeds her baby.
- Breastfeeding on demand provides all the water a baby needs, even in hot weather. On the other hand, formula feeding requires access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation.
- Breastfeeding entails less energy when compared to formula production industries. It also reduces the need for water, firewood and fossil fuels in the home.
- Breastfeeding women who are supported by their employers are more productive and loyal. Maternity protection and other workplace policies can enable women to combine breastfeeding and their other work or employment. Decent jobs should cater to the needs of breastfeeding women, especially those in precarious situations.
- With industrialisation and urbanisation the time and space challenges become more prominent. Breastfeeding mothers who work outside the home need to manage these challenges and be supported by employers, their own families and communities. Creches near the workplace, lactation rooms and breastfeeding breaks can make a big difference.
- Breastfeeding practices differ across the globe. Breastfeeding needs to be protected, promoted and supported among all, but in particular among poor and vulnerable groups. This will help to reduce inequalities.
- In the bustle of big cities, breastfeeding mothers and their babies need to feel safe and welcome in all public spaces. When disaster and humanitarian crises strike, women and children are affected disproportionately. Pregnant and lactating women need particular support during such times.
- Breastfeeding provides a healthy, viable, non-polluting, non-resource intensive, sustainable and natural source of nutrition and sustenance.
- Breastfeeding safeguards infant health and nutrition in times of adversity and weather-related disasters due to global warming.
- Breastfeeding entails less waste compared to formula feeding. Industrial formula production and distribution lead to waste that pollutes the seas and affects marine life.
- Breastfeeding is ecological compared to formula feeding. Formula production implies dairy farming that often puts pressure on natural resources and contributes to carbon emissions and climate change.
- Breastfeeding is enshrined in many human rights frameworks and conventions. National legislation and policies to protect breastfeeding mothers and babies are needed to ensure that their rights are upheld.
- The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (GSIYCF) fosters multi-sectorial collaboration, and can build upon various partnerships for support of development through breastfeeding programs and initiatives.
Read more about the health, economic and environmental benefits of breastfeeding:
- Reduction in illness | Kia heke te taumaha
- Reduction in health costs | Kia heke te utu hauora
- Societal and environmental benefits | Ngā hua mō te hapori me te taiao
Breastfeeding in a national and global context
Whāngote ki Aotearoa, ki tāwāhi
Indigenous breastfeeding cultures in New Zealand Aotearoa and globally have been undermined by colonisation and other global economic and political influences. Breastfeeding has been identified as a human right, and efforts to improve breastfeeding exclusivity and duration are articulated through a global health equity lens.
Read more about the national context for breastfeeding:
Read more about the global context for breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding support services
Ratonga tautoko whāngote
In New Zealand Aotearoa, a wide range of supporters work collaboratively to assist whānau to achieve their breastfeeding goals and desired intentions. The acquisition of knowledge and skills, support by health care providers, and a parent’s self-efficacy and self-confidence in their ability to breastfeed are all important influences (Bartle and Harvey 2017; Wood et al 2016; Entwistle et al 2010).
Read more about breastfeeding support services in New Zealand Aotearoa:
Structural influences and barriers
Awenga ā-pūnaha, taero ā-pūnaha
Infant feeding decisions are influenced by the society and environment in which parents and caregivers live, and the level of support they are able to access to achieve their breastfeeding goals (Rollins et al 2016). Rates of exclusive breastfeeding in New Zealand Aotearoa are influenced by a wide range of factors, including whānau and partner support, socioeconomics, social pressure, cultural influences, and mental health and wellbeing. The availability of support in various settings such as workplaces, education, health care and community spaces also plays an important role.
Read more about the structural influences on breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding policy and legislation in New Zealand
Herenga me ngā ture whāngote i Aotearoa
Globally, the right to breastfeed and to be breastfed is well-documented in international conventions and treaties related to health and human rights. In New Zealand Aotearoa, the legislative framework for protecting, supporting and promoting breastfeeding is covered in key pieces of policy and legislation designed to address the barriers to breastfeeding across infancy and early childhood.
Read more about breastfeeding policy and legislation:
Bartle N, Harvey K. 2017. Explaining infant feeding: The role of previous personal and vicarious experience on attitudes, subjective norms, self-efficacy and breastfeeding outcomes. British Journal of Health Psychology. 763–785.
Entwistle F, Kendall S, Mead M. 2010. Breastfeeding support – the importance of self-efficacy for low income women. Maternal and Child Nutrition. 228–42.
Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N, et al. 2016. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet. 387(10017): 491–504.
Smith J. 2019. A commentary on the carbon footprint of milk formula: harms to planetary health and policy implications. International Breastfeeding Journal. 14:49.
Victora C, Bahl R, Barros A, et al. 2016. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: Epidemiology, mechanisms and lifelong effect. The Lancet. 387(10017): 475–90.
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. 2016. Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development. URL: http://waba.org.my/archive/breastfeeding-a-key-to-sustainable-developmen... (accessed 19 September 2020).
Walters D, Phan L, Mathisen R. 2019. The cost of not breastfeeding: Global results from a new tool. Health Policy and Planning. 34(6): 407–17.
Wood N, Woods N, Blackburn S, et al. 2016. Interventions that enhance breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity: A systematic review. The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing. 41(5): 299–307.
World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund. 2014. Global nutrition targets 2025: Breastfeeding policy brief. Geneva: World Health Organization.