THE mother of a sick baby in hospital was told she didn't qualify for meals because she wasn't breastfeeding.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said she would complain to the Waikato District Health Board over its policy.
She is staying at Waikato Hospital's paediatric ward in Hamilton while her premature 5-month-old son recovers from a lung infection.
On her first night in the ward, a nurse told the mother of three that she would not receive meals because she did not breastfeed her baby.
"It was the way she worded it. She said, 'Because you're not breastfeeding, you won't get meals here'," the mother said.
The 32-year-old said it hurt because she wanted to breastfeed all three of her children but had struck severe food allergies and reflux, making bottlefeeding with prescription formula the only option.
The woman gets two pieces of bread for toast in the mornings but for lunch and dinner she buys food from the hospital cafeteria or relies on her husband and extended family to bring meals to her.
She said while the discrimination was upsetting, she was more concerned about having to leave her unwell baby to go to the cafeteria.
"For me to go and get some decent food, I have to leave my child.
"I understand they are busy but that's why I think there's more reason to feed us so we don't have to leave our children," the mother said.
On one occasion she left her sleeping son to get a late lunch and came back to find him screaming.
"It's not so easy on a mum who cares about her children to go and get herself some nutrition when you come back to an anxious, upset baby."
Waikato DHB spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill said the DHB provided all parents supporting a sick child in the Waikids wards with breakfast.
"Breastfeeding mothers get one other meal - either lunch or dinner - and pregnant women get an evening meal. We [also] provide meals to parents of oncology children."
Mrs Gill said charge nurse managers could use their discretion case by case for other caregivers.
"For example, if mothers cannot leave their baby or child's side because the baby or child is distressed, then they will provide a meal."
She said the hospital cafeteria was a good opportunity for some parents to have a break while their child was resting. The DHB had no record of a complaint on the policy in the past two years.
Last year, the Southern District Health Board came under fire when a bottlefeeding mother complained of the same situation.
It said its then eight-year-old policy was a well-intentioned effort to support breastfeeding.
But deputy chief nursing and midwifery officer Tina Gilbertson said the policy was flawed and was changed to allow bottlefeeding mothers to receive meals at Dunedin Hospital.