The right to breastfeed — Te tika ki te whāngai ū

What is the right to breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is an activity as old as the human race itself, but the issue of whether a woman has the right to breastfeed is increasingly a focus of human rights debates. A child's right to be breastfed is also linked to the right to food. Women's increasing and more continuous participation in the labour force (even during childbearing and breastfeeding years) and a steady number of complaints and enquiries to the Human Rights Commission have heightened the need to examine carefully how New Zealand is achieving the right to breastfeed in the light of international standards.

New Zealand context

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.

Our work

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 English, Maori, Samoan, and Tongan.

The pamplet 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.