Human Rights Act 1993

There is no specific law in Aotearoa 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.

Other relevant conventions and charters include:

Implementing The Code in NZ

Aotearoa New Zealand is a signatory to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code). Effective and full implementation of the Code and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions is a complex and resource-intensive process. Implementation is influenced by the political will to legislate and enforce the Code (World Health Organization et al 2016).

The current Code in NZ was set up as voluntary and self-regulatory because the government directed that the Code was to be implemented and monitored through consensus and discussion, not through legislation. Article 5 of the Code specifies that products within its scope are not advertised. In New Zealand, at the time, it was believed that it was not possible to legally restrict the advertising of products without contravening the Commerce Act 1986 and the Fair Trading Act 1986. Following a review of the voluntary, self-regulatory implementation and monitoring process for the Code in NZ in 2001, the Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora decided to continue with the same approach. However, the Ministry acknowledged that attention needs to be paid to raising awareness of the Code in NZ, and to the marketing of follow-on formula (Ministry of Health 2012).

Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)

The BFHI is an international programme launched in 1991 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund to ensure all maternity services become centres of breastfeeding support worldwide. Mothers receive immediate breastfeeding support through the BFHI. In Aotearoa New Zealand the Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora contracts the New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA) to facilitate the Baby Friendly Aotearoa Programme, of which the BFHI is a part. The BFHI works to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates by providing evidence-based breastfeeding support to parents, and ensuring maternity providers employ best-practice standards of care. The BFHI also requires services to support mothers who choose not to or cannot breastfeed. It is a requirement in New Zealand Aotearoa that all maternity facilities are BFHI accredited, and as a result 99.85 percent of infants are born in BFHI-accredited facilities.

Read more about:

Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI)

Families and communities are indispensable resources for breastfeeding parents. Evidence has shown that parent-to-parent support groups, peer counsellors and community-based workers can be very effective in helping parents to initiate exclusive breastfeeding and sustain breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond. In 2019, 78 percent of infants were exclusively breastfed on discharge from maternity services. However, this percentage drops significantly to 49 percent six weeks after birth, and then 16.7 percent at six months.

The BFCI is part of the Baby Friendly Aotearoa Programme and strives to create supportive breastfeeding services in the community. Like the BFHI, it aims to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for healthy parents and babies through the implementation of best-practice standards based on current scientific evidence and set guidelines. The BFCI programme includes a broad focus on:

  • providing community support for the initiation of breastfeeding to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates
  • supporting mothers to increase the duration of breastfeeding alongside the appropriate introduction of complementary foods.

Read more about BFCI.

PPL has a significant influence on exclusive breastfeeding by providing parents greater opportunity to establish and maintain breastfeeding (Nandi et al 2018; Lucas and McCarter-Spaulding 2012; Grandahl et al 2020; Mirkovic et al 2016). Current evidence suggests the availability of unpaid leave has little impact on parents’ breastfeeding practices (Nandi et al 2018).

Previously, parents in Aotearoa New Zealand were entitled to 18 weeks of PPL, which increased to 26 weeks in July 2020. Parents are also entitled to a further 30 weeks unpaid parental leave.

Read more about Paid parental leave.

Workplace regulation

Breastfeeding while working is protected in Aotearoa New Zealand via The Employment Relations Amendment Act 2008. The Act specifies that employers have to give breastfeeding breaks and appropriate facilities for employees who want to breastfeed or express milk for their babies at work or during the working day, if this is reasonable and realistic in the circumstances (taking into consideration the employer’s operational environment and resources). The breaks are unpaid and in addition to rest and meal breaks (unless the employee and employer agree otherwise). If employers don’t do this, the Employment Relations Authority could make them comply or apply a penalty.

The Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding (PDF, 271 KB) Breastfeeding in the Workplace – A guide for employers (PDF, 370 KB)provides information about ‘appropriate facilities’ for employees to breastfeed or express.  also has practical information about how facilities can be provided in a workplace.

Read more about the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2008.


Grandahl M, Stern J, Funkquist E. 2020. Longer shared parental leave is associated with longer duration of breastfeeding: A cross-sectional study among Swedish mothers and their partners. BMC Pediatrics. 20: 159.

Lucas J, McCarter-Spaulding D. 2012. Working out work: Race, employment, and public policy. In P Smith, B Hausam, M Labbok. Beyond Health, Beyond Choice: Breastfeeding Constraints and Realities.

Ministry of Health. 2012. Background to the breast-milk substitutes code. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Mirkovic K, Perrine C, Scanlon K. 2016. Paid maternity leave and breastfeeding outcomes. Birth. 43(3).

Nandi A, Jahagirdar D, Dimitris M, et al. 2018. The impact of parental and medical leave policies on socioeconomic and health outcomes in OECD countries: A systematic review of the empical literature. The Milkbank Quarterly. 96(3): 434–71.

United Nations. (1979). Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. New York: United Nations.

United Nations. 1989. Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York: United Nations.

United Nations. (2016). Joint statement by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food, Right to Health, the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in law and in practice, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: United Nations.

World Health Organization, UNICEF, IBFAN. 2016. Marketing of breast-milk substitutes: National implementation of the international Code: Status Report 2016. Geneva: World Health Organization.