Study aims to improve NZ low breastfeeding rates

08 May 2018
Woman breastfeeding

Researchers are launching a new study to find out why New Zealand breastfeeding rates are so low and even dropping.

The University of Otago study will investigate why New Zealand’s breastfeeding rates are so poor, especially for Māori and identify policy solutions to the problem.  

Researcher Dr Sarah Donovan says women’s voices will feature strongly.  

“Through a series of qualitative interviews with new mothers, we’ll explore and document the barriers to breastfeeding they experience, and gather their ideas on what would help them,” she says.

“We hope to develop specific, action-oriented evidence to guide more effective public health support for breastfeeding.”

Dr Donovan says public health support for breastfeeding is a highly cost-effective strategy for reducing infant mortality and supporting population health and well-being.

She says populations in which breastfeeding is a near-universal, show that virtually all mothers are able to breastfeed if they have the right support.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand, despite a high rate of breastfeeding initiation, rates decline steeply during the first few months of life.  In 2015, only 19 per cent of babies were exclusively breastfed at six months, and the rates were substantially lower for Māori and Pacific infants and those from socioeconomically deprived families.

“We’re excited to start this study on such an important topic, especially as breastfeeding has really slipped off the policy agenda in the last decade. This is despite breastfeeding being a very fundamental public health good that is fiercely endorsed by WHO as healthy public policy,” says Dr Donovan.

The research team will also look at how breastfeeding information could be better used to support women.

The project will also include interviews with key clinical, policy and community health sector stakeholders to determine the structural (rather than informational/educational) barriers to breastfeeding.

The researchers will also review breastfeeding data and reporting practices to develop recommendations for a national data framework in which the right information is collected.