I bring this up because over the past few days, there’s been a story in the news that really hit a nerve for me. In New York City, mayor Michael Bloomberg has been pushing this “Latch On NYC” initiative, one of the most restrictive pro-breastfeeding (and anti-formula) programs in the nation. An article in the New York Post explains:
Under Latch On NYC, new mothers who want formula won’t be denied it, but hospitals will keep infant formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications.
With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why she should offer the breast instead.
“It’s the patient’s choice,” said Allison Walsh, of Beth Israel Medical Center. “But it’s our job to educate them on the best option.”
Lisa Paladino, of Staten Island University Hospital, said: “The key to getting more moms to breast-feed is making the formula less accessible. This way, the RN has to sign out the formula like any other medication. The nurse’s aide can’t just go grab another bottle.”
I’ll just come right out and say that I don’t have an ounce of respect or patience for this kind of overblown breastfeeding evangelism. Don’t get me wrong: if someone wants to breastfeed and can, wonderful. If someone wants to breastfeed and is struggling, by all means help them out. But lecturing every new mom who asks for formula? Trying to manipulate every woman into breastfeeding no matter what her situation or preference like it’s some kind of one-size-fits-all thing? It’s nothing short of insulting.
The reality is that all the education, guilt-tripping, and manipulation in the world will do nothing to force the breasts of women like me to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed for those recommended first six months. It will do nothing to ease the tremendous burdens that breastfeeding places on women in a multitude of individual life circumstances. But why bother to face any of the real issues when you can demonize formula like it’s a dangerous drug and belittle women for making the “wrong” feeding choice?
I think the worst part about this whole crusade for breastfeeding as a “public health issue” in the United States is how wildly out of proportion the rhetoric is with the actual proven benefits. When it comes to breast vs. formula, we’re not talking about something with measurable health consequences at the individual level — we’re talking about differences so minuscule that you can’t even detect them without looking at statistical trends across large populations. (And even then, the better you take into account confounding factors like maternal income and education, the tinier they tend to get.) That we’ve gotten to a point where anyone thinks it’s justified or defensible to lecture and pressure all new moms into breastfeeding at all costs, as though failure to do so will surely damage their babies, is a sign of just how badly we’ve lost all sense of perspective on this issue.
At least, that’s my take. What do you think about this initiative in New York City? Or about the state of breastfeeding advocacy in general? I’d love to hear any thoughts in the comments, and feel free to share this post as you see fit.
Update: Since writing this post, it seems that there has been a lot of backtracking and watering down of the Latch On NYC initiative, which I can only say is a good thing. But for anyone wondering if the outrage over the initiative was overblown or misplaced from the start, check out this excellent write-up which compares and contrasts the document that made everyone so angry with the one that quietly replaced it after the firestorm started.