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Study aiming to improve New Zealand’s low breastfeeding rates

Wellington campus

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Breastfeeding study team image
The research team...(L to R) Dr Sarah Donovan, Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Carmen Timu-Parata, Dr Marie Russell

University of Otago, Wellington (UOW) researchers are leading a new collaborative study to find out why New Zealand breastfeeding rates are so low and even dropping.

The study will investigate the reasons why New Zealand’s breastfeeding rates are poor and declining, particularly for Māori, and will work with stakeholders across multiple sectors to identify policy solutions.

The research will have women’s voices as the starting point for the research to develop new policy solutions to improve breastfeeding rates. It also aims to strengthen collaboration across sectors to achieve better focused and proactive policy direction. The researchers worked together with relevant sector groups, in particular the New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA), to design the project.

“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,” says research team member Dr Sarah Donovan, from UOW’s Department of Public Health.

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

Public health support for breastfeeding is a highly cost-effective strategy for reducing infant mortality and supporting population health and well-being. Populations in which breastfeeding is a near-universal experience, 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 are substantially lower for Māori and Pasifika 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 investigate how current breastfeeding policies and practices could be improved, and also seek to find out how breastfeeding information could be better integrated and reported into policies and practices to evaluate current strategies and guide future action.

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 for the right end-users.

The joint project has received funding from Lotteries Health, and the research team consists of Dr Amanda Kvalsvig (principal investigator), Dr Donovan and Dr Marie Russell all from Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, and Carmen Timu-Parata from the NZBA.

“We’ve had a great initial advisory group with all kinds of sector input including from the late, highly respected paediatrician Dr Leo Buchanan, representatives from Plunket, the NZ College of Midwives, La Leche League, NZBA, Eru Pomare Māori Research Unit (University of Otago, Wellington) and lactation consultants, which has helped us define and refine the direction of the study,” says Dr Donovan.

For further information, contact:

Dr Sarah Donovan
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email sarah.donovan@otago.ac.nz

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email amanda.kvalsvig@otago.ac.nz

Fleur Templeton
Senior Communications Adviser
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 021 225 4218
Email fleur.templeton@otago.ac.nz

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