Yesterday 27 of New York City’s 40 hospitals officially adopted Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial “Latch On NYC” and I’m behind them 100%.
For those of you not familiar with the program, the basic controversy centers around these guidelines for hospitals:
- Enforce the NYS hospital regulation to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula feeding unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart;
- Restrict access to infant formula by hospital staff, tracking infant formula distribution and sharing data on formula distribution with the Health Department;
- Discontinue the distribution of promotional or free infant formula; and
- Prohibit the display and distribution of infant formula promotional materials in any hospital location.
When the Health Department issued its press release back in May, women everywhere cried out in rage. “How dare you?” “It’s my child, my body!” Some of my favorite snipes revolved around the request that Bloomberg grow breasts before he tell us how to feed our children.
Some people just love to argue.
It won’t make one damn bit of difference if you ask me. I gave birth in 2009 and 2011 in one of these fine hospitals. I can account first hand that the policies described to “encourage breastfeeding” have been in effect long before Bloomberg and the NYC Health Department thought up their clever title.
A nurse was in my room to instruct breastfeeding, swaddling, co-sleeping and every method of attachment parenting known to Dr. Sears’s disciples as soon as the baby left the womb. There were countless programs and support groups for breastfeeding. The nurses admonished their patients’ pleas to “supplement” with formula far more than Bloomberg’s initiative. Right or wrong it was the reality I saw first hand in 2009 and 2011.
Besides the reality of the situation, what are these outraged moms really complaining about? The fact that it might be slightly more difficult to procure formula if you had already committed to breastfeeding? Let’s point out that the Latch On initiative has NO bearing on women who came into the hospital choosing to feed their baby formula for whatever reason. If you came to this decision prior to the bleary-eyed, vagina-exploding, breast-throbbing act of delivery it would be honored without qualification. The guidelines are aimed at mothers who intend to nurse but are having a tough go in the first days of motherhood. The message is this: changing your mind is a last resort position.
Further, formula isn’t being banned from hospitals. It’s being held within the control of the staff doctors and nurses, out of plain sight. Aspirin is kept under the same “lock and key” protection but no one expresses outrage that you might have to ask someone to get a little headache relief. If you are having issues with nursing that surpass typical early day struggles, your baby will be given formula if that is what you and your doctor deem necessary.
The Latch On NYC initiative aims to educate and support mothers who feel that formula is necessary for their children to thrive when there is no medical reason to draw that conclusion (healthy breasts/mom, baby sustaining weight). That instruction and reinforcement begins in the hospital as soon as the baby is delivered.
According to Department of Health statistics, 90% of NYC mothers start breastfeeding their babies. However, by two months, only 31% of NYC mothers are exclusively breastfeeding. Two months post-partum marked the point when things finally started to make sense to me and by that time nearly 60% of nursing mothers have surrendered. The top two reasons given for stopping? “I thought I was not producing enough milk” (47%) and the similar “Breast milk alone did not satisfy my baby” (44%).
I chose to nurse my children and had relative success with both of them. I feel blessed to have had those experiences and worked hard to achieve them. I understand not everyone can breastfeed their child and firmly believe those moms should not feel badly about giving their babies formula. However, there is a wide spectrum from one nursing extreme (breastfeeding is easy peasy!) to the other (breastfeeding is not an option for me) and most mothers in the middle could benefit from more education and more support. The Latch-On NYC initiative intends to do just that; it’s not an attack on mothers and our choices. Let’s stop using it as ammunition.