by REBECCA SPARROW
That’s the question, I’m asking.
Does baby formula need to be under lock and key in hospitals in order to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies rather than relying on baby formula?
I don’t know what you think but I can tell you what New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks. He thinks ‘yes’. Which is why next month the city is implementing a program that aggressively promotes breastfeeding to new mothers in the city’s hospitals by locking up the baby formula …
Lawyer and writer Jacoba Urist wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal blogs:
Starting September 3rd, under the “Latch on NYC” initiative , the City will monitor the number of formula bottles hospitals use, by keeping them in the same kind of lock-boxes they use to store medications.
So far, 27 of the New York’s 40 hospitals have signed on, agreeing to toss out formula-branded items like lanyards and mugs and to document a medical reason for every bottle a newborn receives— treating formula like a prescription drug.
With each formula bottle a mother requests, she’ll get a lactation lecture about why she should use breast milk instead.
NYU Medical’s spokesperson told The New York Post that they’ve already adopted the program. The Post reports that NYU’s breastfeeding rate has jumped from 39 to 68 percent of new mothers since they implemented it.
I’m all for women breastfeeding if they want to (as I did). The health benefits of breast milk are persuasive. We should support mothers who choose to breastfeed with things like greater social acceptability and public lactation rooms.
But Bloomberg’s program forces women to defend a valid request for baby formula. It preys on women in the days (sometimes hours) after they deliver a baby.
If I, a fairly confident, opinionated lawyer, had trouble standing up to the breast-feeding brigade at the hospital, before the Bloomberg lockdown, I can only imagine what New York moms face today. Or come September.
To say that Urist’s words ring true for me in an understatement. Earlier this year I gave birth to my son Fin in a Baby Friendly Health Initiatives accredited hospital — a global initiative that is strikingly similar to the one Urist describes above.
Not that I should really even need to tell you this but Fin was premature. My milk took a loooong time to come in. And my son was losing weight. So my pediatrician instructed that he go on formula for ‘top up’ feeds. An issue that clearly didn’t sit well with some of the midwives.
Several of them – not all but more than one – made me feel like a negligent mother for giving my baby formula.
I’m a forty-year-old woman who is hardly a wall flower. And yet three days after giving birth, I just stood there and allowed myself to be berated by a midwife at the ward’s front desk – in front of several people – for ‘not trying hard enough’ to breastfeed. She publicly reprimanded me for not expressing milk every two hours throughout the night. I had tried but frankly I was EXHAUSTED. Actually exhausted doesn’t even convey how I felt. I’d been sleeping an average of two hours per night in the lead up to Fin’s birth. I was mentally fried by the time I reached hospital. Regardless, this midwife castigated me. I went back to my room and sobbed.
Worse was the loudly unspoken message that what I was doing — giving my son some formula – was ‘disappointing’. Even irresponsible. It, at times, felt like blatant bullying at a period in my life when I was at my most fragile.
It was the facial expressions certain midwives made when I asked for the formula. It was the ever conflicting advice on how best to feed the formula to him. (Every midwife had a different opinion: Syringe! Teat! Dropper! I found myself getting anxious whenever there was a change in shift). It was the way in which I was gravely presented with forms to sign when I requested the formula for Fin which reinforced the notion that what I was doing was detrimental to his well-being. It was being made aware that there needed to be two staff to ‘witness’ the formula being ‘signed out’ of the cupboard. All strategies, if we’re going to be completely honest, designed to make mothers who choose formula to feel awkward. Uncomfortable. Guilty. These initiatives seem hell-bent on communicating to formula-feeding mothers that their choice is the wrong one. And believe me, I got that message loud and clear.