Call for baby-friendly workplace initiative to support exclusive breastfeeding

15 March 2018
Woman breastfeeding a baby

New Zealand researchers looking at the reasons new mothers stop exclusive breastfeeding before six-months are calling for a nationwide Baby Friendly Workplace Initiative.

The study discovered that many women find exclusive breastfeeding to six-months demanding and difficult to combine with work.

The World Health Organisation recommends exlcusive breastfeeding until a baby is six-months old and exclusive breastfeeding is a major public health issue in New Zealand.  In 2014, more than 80% of infants were exclusively breastfed at discharge from hospital, but this dropped to 42% at three months and only 16% at six months.

The researchers say New Zealand rates of exclusive breastfeeding are well below the global average of 38% for exclusive breastfeeding at six-months.

They interviewed 30 new mothers who were mostly highly-educated and indicated a strong intention to exclusively breastfeed until six-months.

They found four key themes emerged as to why women stop exclusive breastfeeding early.  These are:

  • The good employee/good mother dilemma

The researchers found that although working mothers can continue exclusive breastfeeding with social support from the employer, family and colleagues many struggle with the idea that they can be a good mother and a good worker. 

Many felt their employer would not be happy with them taking extra time to breastfeed or pump at work.

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for six-months is demanding

Although all of the women in this study intended to exclusively breastfeed for six-months prior to birth, only half managed to do so. They talked about how exclusive breastfeeding is difficult and demanding for mothers.

Comments from women also showed that they felt the six-months guideline did not take into account their individual circumstances or personal needs.

  • Exclusive breastfeeding should be individualised

Many women said the size of the baby influenced breastfeeding practice and that maintaining exclusive breastfeeding for six-months was a challenge when babies started to show an interest in food.

The researchers note that previous advice about the introduction of solids at around four months has resulted in parental confusion about the suitable time for the introduction of solids.  They say the fact that the guideline has changed brings its credibility into question.

  • Giving solids as cultural practice

Some study participants noted that there is a tradition in some New Zealand families of introducing solids early, with some Pacific Islanders giving solids as early as six or eight weeks after birth.

New Zealand research has identified that, as some Pacific people believe that as their babies are bigger, they should start solids earlier.

The researchers say the study highlights that the maintenance of six-months exclusive breastfeeding is challenging and demanding even for those who are socially advantaged, well-educated and highly motivated to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months.

They say that the difficulty many women have in combining work with exclusive breastfeeding demands a new approach from employers.

“We recommend the development of a Baby Friendly Workplace Initiative (BFWI) which provides education to both employees and employers about the legislation, their obligations and responsibilities and the importance of breastfeeding for the long-term health of mothers and babies, staff retention, reduced sick leave and increased productivity of female employees.”

You can read the full article looking at reasons for stopping exclusive breastfeeding before six months here.