Access and Choice: Perfect Formula For Moms

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ed. note: This post’s headline was updated to better reflect its content.


One of MMM‘s FB fans* sent me a link to this story about NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s latest public health initiative and asked what I thought. You might remember, Bloomie is the muscle behind the ban on jumbo sized, sugary drinks. Anyway, this new plan is called the “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” and it’s essentially all about breastfeeding … which is good, right?

Not so fast.

There are some wonky pieces to this whole thing that have some mothers and parenting advocates spitting up a little. <—Yes. I went there. Leave it.

Here’s the Mayor at a press conference announcing — and defending — his new push (or more strong urging) to embrace the boob.

I breast-fed my son for 14 months. During the first two weeks, though, I was definitely eyeing the free formula that the hospital sent home with us and our baby. I mean, it was a whole diaper bag full of the stuff, plus another small box packed tight with tiny ready-to-serve bottles. Tempting when your nipples are cracked and practically falling off. But I stayed with the breast-feed plan. Very glad I did, too.

That was me. That was my choice. During that time, I met just a handful of mothers who had opted for the formula without thinking twice about  it. Mind you, I didn’t bump into too many of these ladies. But then again, I lived in Crunchy Hill, Organic Town, Brooklyn, where the message was clear and simple: Breast is definitely best.

Bloomberg’s new program, which is sponsored by the World Health Organization and takes effect this September, will make it a little more difficult to get grab bags of free formula at the hospital. According to the New York Times, “nurses in participating New York City hospitals will need to sign out formula like medication, and give parents wanting to formula feed a mandatory talk on why the breast is best.”

So it’s … *insert Auto-Tune*  

He’s climbin in your windows
he’s snatchin your formula up
tryna steal it so y’all need to
hide your kids, hide your wife
hide your free bag, hide your case
you can run and tell dat, homeboy. 

For me, it comes down to this: Let’s push choice. I can get behind a plan to encourage new mothers to breast-feed their babies. Easing up on the free crates of forumla might not be the worst idea either. But the lecture for those who decide to formula feed? That’s not helpful. When it starts to feel like your voice, your choice in this highly personal matter is being shoved to the wayside, that’s a problem.

What do you think? Has Mayor Bloomberg taken a step over the line?

*(So, have you “Liked” the Ms. Mary Mack Facebook page yet? Come on. “Like” us already, man.)

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    I guess I have to take another look at the actual initiative. I didn’t realize women would be given a lecture; I thought it was sharing the information about the benefits of breastfeeding. (I’d guess that if someone wants formula, they already know about the benefits of that!) Is some of the reaction around the interwebs due to Bloomberg’s style of sharing the news? He’s not exactly warm and fuzzy.

    I also took home free formula, and used it, after my firstborn came home. I was also breastfeeding. Why did I use it? Because the nurses told me to. And because they had given him (without my consent) formula in the hospital. In the end, it made my getting on the breastmilk truck a hell of a lot tougher. If the only thing this initiative does is stop that kind of manipulation of mothers, I’m all for it.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks for the comment, Kristin. The “mandatory talk” sounds like a lecture to me. You’re right about folks taking issue w/ The Mayor’s delivery (the video clip cracked me up! And not just because he says “idear.”), but some parents feel like this is another “nanny” move by Bloomberg.

      I like this intuitive for the reasons I stated in the post: Yes, promote breast-feeding. Yes, turn down the volume on the formula giveaways. (Send us home w/ an Amazon gift card to help w/ ALL the “Best Reviewed” gear, toys and books we’re about to buy over the next 12 months!) But above all this, promote and support our choice.

      You also raise a good question: Will mat ward nurses no longer give babies formula, as in your case, w/out parents’ consent?

  • 2

    Oooh… this is a good one. Wish I had time to think more before writing this but, alas, as a work from home mom banging away the keyboard during nap time, I gotta just get this out. :-)

    I couldn’t agree with you more about choice. But I don’t feel like there’s much choice when women are, without fail, provided—not by request—with tons of info, samples and coupons for formula without the guarantee of equal support for breast feeding. The formula companies are in the hospital no matter what, but getting an on-duty nurse who knows her breast feeding shit? Or one that necessarily shares your belief about breast milk vs formula or who will give you an impartial take on the two? That’s luck. Or you can always spend money to hire a lactation consultant (now that’s accessible!)

    Personally, I’m for the Bloomberg initiative. I think that it levels the playing field. I also wish that it leveled the playing field in the other direction: that instead of pulling formula further way, we could get big corporate dollars around providing breast feeding support. But, alas, that will not happen. So, just like you have to request breast feeding support, now you have to request formula. I don’t mean to be reductive—I know the initiative is more nuanced and I’m not speaking to every detail—but that’s pretty much how I see it. And that doesn’t bother me.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I’m all the way with you, Stacie. This is a good initiative. However, I wonder if the people/nurses giving the breast-feeding information will be “experts” who can truly offer and overwhelmed mother good, solid advice and tips. (I’m sure, right? They *are* nurses after all, Blades!) The formula giveaway, let’s be honest, is easy for the hospitals. “Here you go, new mom, take this bag and box and be on your way.” My hope is that through this initiative new mothers will leave the hospital feeling like they made an informed choice. Either way.

  • 3
    Micaela Torregrosa-Mahoney says:

    oh Nicole… I’m so relieved you didn’t go all “nanny-state” and “lactation nazis” on me!!! Phew, when I saw your post on FB, I was a little wary of clicking over because I’ve read a few knee-jerk reactions to this from people that just made me do a double-take and run for the hills.

    Bloomberg is a tool but this *voluntary* policy is good news, great news for the women of NYC. If only the whole country would try to adopt the spirit (if not the letter) of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative! Also, it is totally under his purview because this is a public health matter.

    I support choice but like others have said, when formula is right there and there is no lactation help in sight, there isn’t much choice. Not everyone can afford to hire a private LC/CLC/IBCLC, not everyone even knows the difference, or that they exist. Not everyone has ever seen another woman breastfeed a baby or known of any baby being breastfed in their own family (JLo, anyone? also, my cousin’s wife). Anyone who talks about choice without considering *access* needs to check their privilege. There are so many ways in which a woman’s choice to breastfeed can be undermined or sabotaged to the point where breastfeeding never clicks or succeeds, and if this NYC policy is taking a few steps towards remedying that, then I’m all for it.

    • 3.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Know what, Micaela? You are so right. It is about access. In fact, your thoughtful comment is making think about changing the title of this post. No, really. I don’t want others to mistake thus post for any kind of “nanny state” or “lactation nazi” rant. My overall point, which I hope is clear, is that I support breast-feeding. I really support the promotion of breast-feeding. And I support choice. However, as you said, if don’t have access to just the information about your choices, then where are you then? Probably standing there holding a new baby and a case full of free formula that was shoved under your nose.

      My hope is that more women choose breast-feeding with the help of this initiative. I also hope that women who decide, fully aware of the benefits of nursing, to formula-feed are not made to feel like they are doing something wrong.

  • 4
    Micaela Torregrosa-Mahoney says:

    <3<3<3 you rock!

  • 5