Mayor Bloomberg of New York City is getting local hospitals to lock up their formula as a method of encouraging more mothers to breastfeed. 27 of 40 hospitals in the city have agreed to hide their formula, as well as to stop giving out formula samples and bags, lanyards or other paraphernalia emblazened with formula logos. Because obviously that lanyard is the reason that someone will or won’t breastfeed.
And not only is the formula inaccessible to mothers, in order to get it, nurses have to document a medical reason for distributing it and every time a mother requests a bottle, they will receive education on the benefits of breastfeeding.
I admire that New York is trying to encourage mothers to breastfeed, but they could not be going about it in a worse manner if they tried.
Educating a mother on the benefits of breastfeeding is a fantastic idea, we should be giving all women the tools to make the best decisions for themselves and for their babies. But there is a time and a place. The right time for this education is at prenatal appointments, where women can discuss the benefits with a physician they are familiar with. The right time for this education is in a childbirth class where everyone has come to learn. The right time for this education might even be in the hospital, especially if a mother is on the fence or has not had access to prenatal care/education.
The time for this education is NOT after a mother has asked for formula. By that point she has made a decision for her child. Educating her on the benefits of breastmilk at this point in time serves only to shame her for her decision or to guilt her out of it. The days immediately following childbirth are not days where the medical personnel responsible for your care should be making you feel bad. I cannot imagine trying to heal, take care of my infant and manage a guilt trip from my nurse, even a well intended one.
I tried desperately to breastfeed my son. That was all I did his first 24 hours and despite the assistance of 4 nurses and a lactation consultant, Eli never latched on. At 24 hours, he started showing signs of dehydration and so, at the suggestion of the LC, we requested formula. I wanted nothing more than for him to be nourished only by breast milk, so I was devastated that his first food wouldn’t come from me, but I made that choice for his well-being.
I cannot begin to tell you how completely awful I would’ve felt if the nurse then educated me on the benefits of breast milk. That decision was already unbelievably difficult without “education” on top of it.
But more than that, if a woman doesn’t want to breastfeed, she shouldn’t be harassed or forcibly educated if she doesn’t want to be. Plenty of women know the benefits of breast milk and choose formula for reasons that are no one else’s business, least not the mayor of New York City.
There is a time and a place to promote breastfeeding, but there is also a time to support and respect a mother’s decision and it seems NYC and Michael Bloomberg may have those times confused and it’s a tremendous shame.