Background here if you have no idea what this is:
Piri Weepu has defended his decision to bottlefeed his daughter after footage of the All Black bottle-feeding her was cut from an anti-smoking advertisement.
The two-second glimpse of the Rugby World Cup star feeding his 6-month-old daughter Taylor was removed following concerns from pro-breastfeeding organisations the high-profile of Weepu would sway people away from breastfeeding their children.
However the decision to cut the footage has been widely criticised, with some pointing out men and many women cannot breastfed.
There’s been a lot of talk about ‘breastfeeding nazis’, with the presumption that everyone knows that breast-milk is best, there’s already huge cultural pressure on women to breastfeed etc, so more breastfeeding advocacy is excessive. Well, that’s true of white, middle-class New Zealand. And some of the mid-wives Maggie and I encountered during our pre-natal classes were, frankly, crack-pots who approached the issue of breast-feeding with religious hysteria, in which infant formula was evil and failure to breast-feed was child abuse. (actual example: the mid-wife who taught the lactation class we attended insisted that women who failed to breast-feed wouldn’t be able to get jobs when they were ready to go back to work, because employers preferred to hire woman who breast-fed.)
But this pro-breastfeeding culture isn’t universal:
Ministry of Health data (2006) shows that only about 66% of the general population breastfeed their newborns with this figure reducing to 55% at three months and just 25% at six months. While 59% of Maori mothers breast feed their newborns, dropping to 45% at 3 months and down to 17% still breast-feeding at six months. At the same time 57% of Pacific mothers breast feed their newborns, 48% at 3 months, with 19% still breast-feeding at six months. There are several other studies done by various researchers and the general trend appears that breastfeeding rates are not improving for New Zealand mothers including Maori and Pacific populations and the national targets are not met.
I talked about this with the pediatricians at the neo-natal ward: many Maori and Pacific Island mums simply refuse to even attempt breastfeeding. Those cultural pressures don’t seem to be there. One of the many advantages of breast-milk are the immunological benefits: you simply can’t get those protective and anti-microbal factors from formula milk. And children from those demographics least likely to be breastfed are the ones most likely to go home to poorly insulated houses that are overcrowded and shared with adults who smoke. They’re the children who most need to be breastfed, and they aren’t. So that’s where pro breastfeeding organisations are coming from. They’re actually losing the battle.
Having made that point, it seemed to me that all the advocacy for breast-feeding during the pre-natal period wasn’t matched by post-natal support. Wellington Hospital has a really, really high throughput model, in which mothers and children are sent home as quickly as possible, long before proper feeding is established. I don’t know if that’s standard across New Zealand, but it seems like pro-breastfeeding organisations could put more energy into lobbying for improved maternity care. All that advocacy is pretty futile if the health system doesn’t actually follow through on it.