The risks associated with not breast-feeding should be outlined at antenatal classes, rather than via a warning on infant formulas, a Northland midwife says.
"In the early postnatal period, there's lots of other issues that a woman's feeling with her hormones. It's quite a difficult time to say to a woman: 'Do you realise that if you formula-feed your baby, these are the risks associated with it'?" Lynley McFarland, of Mill Road Midwives, said.
Her comments followed a proposal to introduce product labels warning of the health risks associated with infant formula.
Research suggests babies who aren't breast-fed are at increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and being obese. Slower cognitive development and weak immunity have also been linked to babies not being breast-fed.
Ms McFarland suggested the antenatal period may be a good time to provide information on breast-feeding's benefits.
"Those risks need to be really widely known in the community. It's really good if the experienced women in the family will get around and support a breast-feeding woman, because quite often it's them that discourage [it] - especially if they've got a strong bottle-feeding history," she said.
A Food Standards Australia and New Zealand consultation paper is calling for submissions on proposals, including warning labels that could replace or supplement the "breast is best" statement on infant formula products.
Debate over breast-feeding versus formula has flared this year, with formula-feeding mothers saying they feel vilified for choosing formula - with "breastapo" type tactics on many maternity wards.
The New Zealand Breast Feeding Authority says it is important parents understand the difference between formula feeds and breast-feeding.
Meanwhile, New Zealand scientists are working on developing a baby formula which could match human milk's nutritional quality. The Government has approved a research grant for the University of Otago-led project, trying to find ways of adding oligosaccharides to formula made from cows' milk.
Oligosaccharides have been linked to healthy bacteria in babies' bowels.