ELISABETH Tākao, Tūhoe, is one of hundreds of women Tūranga Health supports each year to breastfeed their moko. Here Elisabeth shares her story alongside Tūranga Health nurses and kaiawhina who say they are starting to see a rise in the number of exclusively breastfed Maori babies.
Twenty-eight-year-old Elisabeth Tākao is revelling in her ability to exclusively breastfeed baby Tamaikoha Tākao-Smith, and credits Tūranga Health for their support.
“This time I wanted to breastfeed fully and wanted to express, and I when I told my nurse she was amazing.”
Elisabeth’s Tamariki Ora Nurse Celia Letufuga helped Elisabeth acquire a breast pump and gave her advice on the best way to express and store milk. Freezing breastmilk for later use was a revelation for Elisabeth.
“I thought that was the greatest lifehack ever! There’s no wastage. It’s all been amazing,” says the motivated mother of three.
Support from Tūranga Health
Tūranga Health staff working with mums like Elisabeth, say breastfeeding is the single most important thing they can help a mum and a family with, once a child is born.
As well as Celia, Tūranga Health’s Tamariki Ora team includes nurse Akesa Kavai, kaiāwhina Sarah Brown and Leslie Puketapu, and manager Janneen Kinney.
“It’s the best start for baby, mum and whānau,” says Janneen. “Breastfeeding has been shown to improve the short and long term health of baby and their whānau,”
The Tūranga Health staff, say breastfeeding is more widely spread in the community compared with four years ago, and that’s a huge victory.
“We know that breastfeeding is hard work and takes commitment however the benefits that baby and mother will reap are truly incredible,” says Sarah. “We’re here to help make that commitment to breastfeeding easier for both mum and baby.”
Elisabeth, who intends to exclusively breastfeed Tamaikoha until he is at least six months old, couldn’t agree more.
With the support nurse Celia, and her partner Hemi Smith, Elisabeth’s been able to remain in her Te Wānanga O Aotearoa programme of study, taking baby with her to class, weekend noho, and marae.
“For me it’s been amazing to be able to keep studying. I thought I would have to stop with baby but it’s been so easy to make it part of my life.”
Elisabeth’s study has reignited her interest in her Māoritanga and she has woven her experiences of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding into her creative and written work.
“A lot of my past year’s work has been about Tamaikoha my baby, and Tamaikoha the pou tokomanawa.”
Breastfeeding pilot programme increases rates
Four years ago Tūranga Health launched pilot breastfeeding support programme Kiri ki te Kiri Innovation (Skin to Skin) which aimed to increase the breastfeeding rates for first time Māori mothers.
Now, with the combination of kaiāwhina support, and Kiri ki te Kiri, breastfeeding rates have risen across the rohe.
The New Zealand target is 75% of Māori babies be exclusively or fully breastfed at six weeks, and 65% at six months. In 2016, 58% of Māori babies under the care of Tūranga Health were exclusively or fully breastfed at six weeks and six months.
“We haven’t reached our target yet, however it is fantastic increasing numbers of babies are being breastfed.” says Janneen. Four years ago about 35% of babies were exclusively or fully breastfed.
Increasing the awareness and knowledge of breastfeeding, involving partners and whānau as much as possible, and maximising community support, all helps.
“There can be a raft of reasons why a new baby doesn’t breastfeed,” says Janneen. “In a small number of cases, mothers experience lactation problems and other health issues.”
“Along with the Tamariki Ora Well Child Service, whānau can access the expert skills and knowledge of midwives and lactation consultants in the community.”
“We’re all here to help.”
Meanwhile, Elisabeth is thrilled with the balance she has in her life being a mum, a partner, and a student.
“I’ve been able to do all of this at the same time and I have connected even more with my Maori side. I’m proud. Really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve.”
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