New Zealand mothers are falling short of international guidelines for the length of time that babies should be breastfed, a study has found.
Almost all New Zealand children are breastfed initially, but this drops to just over half by the age of four months, the Auckland University research shows.
The World Health Organisation recommends that breastfeeding is exclusive to six months, advice that is met by only 16 percent of Kiwi mothers.
The figures come out of new research from the university's Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study and are published in the NZ Medical Journal.
Co-author Professor Cameron Grant says researchers looked at more than 6000 single-born children from birth until the age of two.
"There is considerable evidence of the health and economic benefits that breastfeeding brings to families and society," Prof Grant said.
"So while breastfeeding practices are affected by a range of individual and other factors, it's important that we plan and evaluate strategies to support, promote and protect breastfeeding in New Zealand."
Co-author Dr Teresa Castro said the study also showed that mothers who identified as Maori, Pacific or Asian were less likely than European mothers to breastfeed exclusively for four or more months.
Those most likely to continue for longer were over the age of 20, had a tertiary education, had planned their pregnancy or already had other children.