Saturday, January 18, 2003

Mothers forced to send breast milk by mail

19 January 2003

Increasing numbers of vulnerable premature babies are being shunted around the country because there is no room in hospitals.

One stretched Auckland hospital has even considered sending newborns to Australia in its search for hospitals to take the 20 mothers and babies it is transferring each month.

Hospital staff say the transfers cause stress to families, put babies' health at risk and can affect breastfeeding.

In one case, an Auckland mother had to courier her breast milk to Wellington after her premature twins were transferred because of hospital overcrowding.

Chris Rowe, 37, was left in Auckland when her 14-week premature twin sons were flown to Wellington Hospital due to staff and space shortages at the neonatal intensive care unit of Middlemore's Kidz First children's hospital.

"We sort of had them and the next minute, they are all off way down the other end of the country," she said.

Initially, Rowe had to stay on in Auckland to care for her two older sons, aged five and eight, but joined the babies in Wellington last week. Until then, she expressed breast milk and couriered it to her babies.

For the past 18 months Kidz First has transferred one baby a week to other neonatal intensive care units.

"It's just hopeless," said newborn special care clinical leader Dr Lindsay Mildenhall. "

"Breastfeeding is important and if your baby is 400 miles away, you're not going to breastfeed very well."

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