Kia ora! My name is Kaitlin. I recently finished up my master’s degree in health psychology at Massey University and am now working at Women’s Health Action.
What motivates your work in the breastfeeding space?
I’m not a parent myself, but working as a baby teacher in early childhood education (ECE) I found myself having a large role in infant feeding. Many mums struggled to continue breastfeeding once they returned to work and many felt they had no option other than to switch to formula. Through this experience I decided to research infant feeding in the ECE setting for my thesis. We have plenty of research demonstrating the impact that workplaces can have on breastfeeding, yet ECE centres have received barely any attention. I worked to address this gap by interviewing women in Auckland about their experiences of combining breastfeeding with ECE.
From your own experiences in engaging with the health system what has worked for you whānau and what improvements would you like to see?
The women who I interviewed felt the onus was on them to manage breastfeeding. ECE centres were happy to provide passive support but ultimately the mothers were responsible for initiating conversations about breastfeeding, educating teachers, managing breast milk storage within the centre, and occasionally dealing with unhelpful attitudes from teachers. These practical concerns were paired with a strong sense of duty to do the best for the child (in this case continue breastfeeding). The pressure of work, ECE, and continuing breastfeeding in these contexts had led to significant stress for the women interviewed.
What are key health interventions which you think are necessary to make a positive change for whānau?
What was clear from my research was that the responsibility to maintain breastfeeding in these settings can not lie fully on whānau. Workplace legislation has meant breastfeeding can be easier for employed women (although there is still great variation). No such policy exists within the ECE. If the ECE sector could shoulder some of this responsibility through improved training, facilities, and policy I believe this would alleviate some of the primary stressors felt by mothers in this context.