The foundations for a healthy life are laid in infancy and childhood. A commitment to the health of our children is a commitment to the health of New Zealanders now and in the future.
There is significant evidence internationally that breastfeeding contributes positively to infant and maternal health. This evidence confirms that increasing breastfeeding rates will contribute positively to many of the population health objectives set by the New Zealand Ministry of Health including:
- improving nutrition
- reducing obesity
- reducing the incidence and impact of cancer
- reducing he incidence and impact of cardiovascular disease
- reducing the incidence and impact of diabetes
The decision to breastfeed is strongly influence by social norms and the beliefs and values of women and their significant others. Once the decision to breastfeed is made, the continuity and quality of care received (especially at birth and in the postpartum period) is of vital importance.
Those working in the health and disability sector have a responsibility to further support and promote breastfeeding, especially with Maori and Pacific communities, by actively encouraging whanau/families to support exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continue to support breastfeeding alongside complementary foods for up to two years of age and beyond.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in 1991 to ensure that all hospitals become centres of breastfeeding support. Since then considerable efforts have been made in most countries to implement the BFHI, with many reporting positive results including improvements of overall breastfeeding rates, and infant and child health.
The intent in Aotearoa New Zealand is to encourage consistent evidence-based, culturally appropriate practice at all health care facilities where the initiation of breastfeeding occurs. The New Zealand Ministry of health requires all maternity facilities to attain, and maintain Baby Friendly Hospital Accreditation.
The BFHI focuses on care within a maternity facility, however for breastfeeding to become the cultural norm in New Zealand it must be protected, supported and promoted in the community. The New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA) developed the BFHI further to set a standard for all community-based practices - this is called the Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI).
Assessment results clearly show the BFHI is making a positive difference to exclusive breastfeeding rates at discharge from maternity facilities as well as staff practice, including time of skin-to-skin contact, improved rooming-in, better support for mothers and more consistent staff education.
The acceptance and adoption of the BFHI and BFCI will serve to improve breastfeeding rates in New Zealand, and in association, will improve infant and child health.