August 1st, 2012

Bloomberg’s Breast-Feeding Plan: Will Locking Up Formula Help New Moms?

By Bonnie Rochman

There are lots of experts who have lots of opinions about New York City’s new plan to encourage breast-feeding in new moms by urging hospitals not to give them baby formula. Advocates praise the move as a way to limit the influence of formula manufacturers on new mothers. Skeptics wonder whether the policy will shame women who choose not to breast-feed.

As for my sister-in-law, Rachel, who recently gave birth in a Manhattan hospital to her first child, she knows firsthand how nurses pushing formula can impact an inexperienced mother. After her C-section, a nurse offered to give her newborn a bottle “to make it easier on you.” Exhausted and uncertain, she agreed — even though she’d intended to breast-feed. “I was a new mom,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Those are exactly the sorts of moms that Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes to influence with his voluntary Latch On NYC initiative. When it goes into effect in September, nurses in participating hospitals will be instructed not to give formula to babies unless there’s a medical reason to do so or unless moms specifically request it (they’ll first have to listen to a mandatory speech about why breast is best). Formula will be locked away like medication, and staff will be required to sign it out, track its distribution and report those figures to the Health Department, which presumably wants to know whether the new policy will cut formula use citywide. Twenty-seven of the city’s 40 hospitals have agreed to participate.

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