A former midwife has revealed that a number of women feel guilty over feeding their babies with formula milk due to strict breastfeeding policies that view formula feeding as completely wrong.
The woman, who asked not to be named as she still works in healthcare, came forward to speak against the policies after reading in last week's Sunday Star-Times about the anguish and guilt suffered by mothers who bottle-fed their babies for health reasons.
"The 'baby-friendly' policies are not baby-friendly at all. No mother should ever be made to feel guilty because she cannot breastfeed," Stuff.co.nz quoted her as saying.
The woman, who worked as a midwife for more than 30 years, recently left midwifery after growing increasingly frustrated she could no longer use her clinical judgement to assist mothers to bottle-feed.
She told of one incident where she hid a formula bottle under her jacket for a new mum to avoid the "breastfeeding police".
"The pressure that is put on mothers to breastfeed is too much. I couldn't believe when they said we couldn't teach the mums how to prepare a bottle in the antenatal period.
"A first-time mum would probably have no idea about safe bottle feeding practices. If they get it wrong the baby can get very ill," she said.
She said it has gone so far that mothers may rebel and actually increase the rates of bottle-feeding.
Last week, Christchurch mum Jess Schulz told the Star-Times she was made to feel like a bad mother after using formula when her baby failed to gain weight. One stranger told her "if you can't breastfeed, don't breed."
A Wellington mum, Amy, said she was furious that no one told her about formula during pregnancy. When her milk never came, there was no support.
The article sparked hundreds of responses online, many of them from women complaining of heavy-handed tactics. This included stories of formula being locked up at hospitals, healthcare "breastapo" bullying mothers, and formula turning into a social taboo.
The Ministry of Health said it planned to discuss the issues raised with district health boards.
Senior adviser maternity services, Bronwen Pelvin, said their policy encourages breastfeeding because of the strong evidence it improves the health of the child.
She expected health professionals to support this policy. "However, the Ministry also provides advice to health professionals around those mothers who find breastfeeding difficult."
The ministry contracts the NZ Breastfeeding Authority to audit maternity facilities to be "baby friendly", as part of New Zealand's obligations to the World Health Organisation and Unicef. Nearly all maternity facilities are currently accredited.
Under the baby-friendly policy, mothers must make an "informed decision on feeding", but formula cannot be discussed during antenatal classes. To retain the baby-friendly accreditation, maternity units must maintain an 80 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate.