The human right to food and nutrition, including breastmilk, is well established in international human rights principles and law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights assert the rights to adequate standards of living, to food, life, survival, and development.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) protects women from discrimination because of the responsibilities of motherhood. Most explicitly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sets out the rights of children to proper nutrition and health care, while highlighting the importance of their parents’ education on “basic knowledge of child health and nutrition [and] the advantages of breastfeeding”.

There is no specific law in New Zealand that deals with the right to breastfeed, but legal protection for the right is available in some circumstances, such as proven disadvantageous treatment based on direct or indirect sex discrimination. The most frequent complaints and enquiries to the Commission involve mothers being asked to leave cafes, pre-schools, museums, and other public places while breastfeeding their babies.

Although there is no particular law on the right to breastfeed, the right is given meaning in a variety of ways through measures to respect, protect and promote the right to breastfeed.

The promotion of breastfeeding through education, advocacy, and policy development is important to ensuring that the right has meaning in everyday life.

Business New Zealand, the Employment Relations Service, the EEO Trust and the Council of Trade Unions worked together with the Human Rights Commission to release Employers' Guidelines for the Prevention of Pregnancy Discrimination.

The Commission has also produced a pamphlet on a woman's right to breastfeed at work and in public. You can view it in EnglishMaoriSamoan, and Tongan.

The pamphlet was developed after the Human Rights Commission wrote the 2005 report The Right to Breastfeed and made a submission that year to the Health Select Committee on a Woman's Right to Breastfeed. The Commission has continued its work with a 2006 submission to the Law and Order Committee on the Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill.