The Labour government in New Zealand has proposed legislation to support breastfeeding. Specifically, employers will be required to provide private space for breastfeeding mothers to feed their babies, or to express milk. There will be flexibility for small employers, but workplaces with more than a few female staff will be expected to provide space. For anyone who is getting grumpy about this ‘extra cost’ imposed on employers, I’m guessing that it could be as simple as providing a screened off area in the lunchroom, or even just access to an office with a door that can be closed a couple of times a day.
I can’t help thinking that this is tinkering around the edges, and that the government is still refusing to follow through on its alleged commitment to supporting breastfeeding. As I have written before, when commenting on the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative, it takes time and effort to establish breastfeeding. For the first day or two or three after giving birth, a mother’s breasts produce colostrum, and the milk only comes in at day two or three. That can be a painful and difficult experience, but it’s also exactly when you need to learn to get the baby latched on and drinking. You need lots of support and help, and ideally, you need to be able to do nothing except concentrate on your baby. But what do we do with new mothers at that time? We ask them to leave hospital.
There are plenty of women who find breastfeeding easy, who have support at home, who don’t have other children to run around after, who don’t need to get up and prepare meals and wash clothes and clean the house. For them, leaving hospital at day one or two or three may not be a big deal, and may even be highly desirable. I know that all I wanted to do when my eldest daughter was born was to get out the door and take her home, especially after the other bed in the room I was in was filled, with a mother who had the telly permanently on the soaps. But many, many women need to have support and help with establishing breastfeeding, and that support and help is most readily available in maternity wards and units.
If the government is really committed to supporting breastfeeding, then it needs to fund maternity wards properly, so that women can stay in hospital for more than a day or two if they need to, in order to establish breastfeeding. Alternatively, they need to fund out-patient services properly, so that new mothers can access help with a phone call, twenty-four hours a day.