Breastfeeding support group La Leche League teetering on the brink due to COVID-19, underfunding

Two major support networks for New Zealand mothers and babies are teetering on the brink with La Leche League now echoing the warning bells already sounded by Plunket.

La Leche League has been helping Kiwi mums with breastfeeding for almost 60 years, but said it's about to fold due to COVID-19 and Government underfunding.

"We don't want the nearly 60 years of service to women in Aotearoa to finish like this but we are sitting on a knife-edge right now," said La Leche League vice-chair Linda Dockrill.

She said the organisation "probably won't be here within the next six to nine months."

La Leche League has supported tens of thousands of Kiwi mothers and babies, with volunteer leaders offering mother-to-mother support, education, and information to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding.

COVID-19 has contributed to a decline in leaders from 150 ten years ago to around 80, and La Leche League said the coffers are also empty with little government support.

Morrinsville mother Ella Moore said accessing help from La Leche leaders has got her through some rough weeks with four-month-old Violet.

"It is hard. It takes a village and yet we don't have a village these days do we, so we need these things to continue."

La Leche League NZ said it needs $150,000 annually to survive, it's been operating on just $18,000 a year in recent years.

Last year it claims it got nothing from the Government.

"I'm really worried this is the end for us, that we have got to a point where there might not be a return without a really serious injection of cash," Dockrill said.

"Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ has an opportunity in front of them. They have a fresh start, we need to be pouring resources into the beginning phases of a child's life."

Plunket, NZ's biggest Well Child provider, has also cut staff hours, sold property and wiped its popular parenting courses which were costing $400,000 a year to run because they were not covered by a government contract or funding.

The outgoing CEO Amanda Malu said the organisation is having to "sell off the family silver" and cut services.

"We needed that $400,000 to ensure we could maintain our core Plunket nursing service. It was impossible for us to do both," she said.

"We are not at all arguing for a bigger slice of the pie for Plunket - we are arguing for a bigger pie."

Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand said a new contract with an increase in funding for La Leche League is to be issued shortly.

In a statement, it said: "The health and wellbeing of our whānau, especially mothers raising small children remains paramount. With the reform of the health system, Te Aka Whai Ora and Te Whatu Ora will work together to strengthen the services for women and their whānau."

Te Whatu Ora said it is currently in negotiation with Whānau Āwhina Plunket and Early Years services for whānau and tamariki, including maternal mental health, are a priority for the Government.

But both Plunket and La Leche League NZ fear without an appropriate cash injection there will be a downstream impact on young mothers' mental health in New Zealand.

"We work alongside lactation consultants and midwives if we are not there, there is not going to be anyone to pick up the slack from a system that's already under pressure," said Dockrill.