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Lay Off Bloomberg’s Latch On Campaign

By ceridwen |

Formula? Breast? Both?

I was seriously trying to ignore all this fuss over the Bloomberg-endorsed Latch On NYC breastfeeding campaign, but the roar has gotten too loud.

Before I make what I hope will be a very brief defense of Bloomberg’s initiative,  I want to say this: in the book I co-authored about pregnancy, birth and caring for a baby we put great effort into listing the benefits of both feeding options. We wrote about the pressure to breastfeed. And the pressure to formula feed.

We wrote about how the movement to bring breastfeeding back to America has been paved largely by volunteers who felt that women needed a choice about how to feed their kids. Sometimes these women seem like raving lunatics. Sometimes they are, indeed, raving lunatics. But too often the raving look in their eyes comes from this: A mom wants to breastfeed but her choice is thwarted by hospital staff who give her baby formula within the first few days of life for reasons that may or may not be medically justified.

We also write about how a breast vs. formula discussion cannot be limited to ingredients. Life is complex. If you’re a stressed out, nipple-cracked, income-losing mother and formula would help, do what’s best for your family. You get to weigh the pros and cons. They are too numerous to list. It’s not just about omegas and immunoglobulins (breastfeeding advocates, take note.) What works best for your family is what works best for your family and only you know what that is.

Okay.

As for the current controversy: the main argument seems to be that many women cannot breastfeed because they don’t make enough milk or they need to get back to work. By making formula-feeding a more conscious choice in the hospital, we are making moms feel guilty.

Okay.

Two things.

1. Often the lack of milk comes from the introduction of early formula feeding in the hospital and a general lack of good support.  (Sometimes it does not and mom really has too little milk or the baby is very premature or whatever and thank goodness for formula!)

2. Working and pumping sucks for many women. So, the answer is to get rid of breastfeeding? Or should we fight for more support for families and better maternity-leave policies. This is a huge feminist issue that so many women bypass in favor of all this hoohaa about “pressure” and “guilt’” from other moms. Why is it that our biological life is always the first to take a hit in these shitty situations? Why not make conditions easier?

But to get back to the issue at hand, the Bloomberg campaign does NOT state that you have to give up your job and nurse your baby until he’s five.

It’s just saying let’s get a marketing and promotion campaign out of hospitals so that your CHOICE is not influenced by a friggin’ for-profit company. And that women who are considering breastfeeding have a fair shot. A … choice! The CDC recently reported that 96% of US hospitals are not “baby-friendly” for reasons mostly to do with breastfeeding support. Does that reflect women having a real choice?

This is what I see often: Mom is literally in labor and above her on the wall is a poster saying how awesome breast milk is for mother and baby. (You know these posters, they’re everywhere.) Then on Day Two she’s told her baby isn’t getting enough milk and “needs” formula. FAIL. Is it her failure? Do we toss the poster? Or improve the care she gets?

I also read that Bloomberg’s move is patronizing- that it assumes women are idiots who have not thought this through.

Some women have thought it through. But I teach childbirth classes and let me tell you, plenty of women have no idea what the hell is going on with breastfeeding or formula feeding. Why should they? I had no clue abut this stuff when I first had a baby and trusted my doctors and the medical community to help me, all of whom– in 2004, maybe it’s gotten better– gave me terrible advice and I got massively infected and even then had to figure out the source of infection ON MY OWN using the Internet because my OB/GYN had “no idea” what was causing the fever.

Is this story about the pressure to breastfeed? Or my choice to breastfeed being thwarted by bad advice?

It may seem like there’s heaps of pressure for women to breastfeed constantly but if you look at the data breastfeeding moms are still facing an uphill battle.

What we really need is for both options to be available. And they will be under the current Latch On initiative.

If you want to feed formula, ask for it. Your “choice” will be noted on your chart, and your baby will be given formula. If you want to breastfeed, it will be noted on your chart, and you’ll be encouraged to work through problems with supportive staff. It’s beautiful: women making conscious choices, saying what they want, not having their decisions made for them by formula companies or doctors with little-to-no breastfeeding training.

Ceridwen Morris (CCE) is a childbirth educator and the co-author of the pregnancy and birth guide From The Hips. Follow her blogging on Facebook.

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Photo credit:  Gregory R Allen/Flickr

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About ceridwen

ceridwen

ceridwen

Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Lay Off Bloomberg’s Latch On Campaign

  1. Daisy says:

    I’m glad to see this article. Even though I’m in Australia, I have heard way too many people complaining about Bloomberg locking up formula. Here in Australia, the advertising industry is much more regulated. Formula companies are not allowed to advertise infant formula (I believe this includes samples and give aways in hospitals). It is such a vulnerable time for new mothers and I don’t think they need the added pressure of marketing campaigns. It also sounds like it might ensure hospital staff actually support mothers who choose to breastfeed, rather than undermining them. Of course, it is also very important that mothers who choose formula are supported as well.

  2. KSK says:

    This is a great post- I completely agree!

  3. Lo says:

    This reminded me that the hospital staff took my baby away from me because “i couldn’t possibly breastfeed with flat nipples”. Well I am perfectly breastfeeding my 16 month old son and we I don’t see any change soon. PRO CHOICE, always pro choice.

  4. Cheryl says:

    I think it’s important mums get support to make a proper choice and then support however they choose to feed their baby. I’m very lucky to be in the UK where you get great support for breastfeeding, and we get amazing maternity leave provision which probably increases the number of mums who continue to breastfeed.

  5. bunnytwenty says:

    “Working and pumping sucks for many women. So, the answer is to get rid of breastfeeding? Or should we fight for more support for families and better maternity leave policies…”

    We should do the latter – but that’s NOT what the Bloomberg campaign is doing. It’s still putting all the responsibility and guilt on moms and letting employers off the hook. It’s not solving the problem in any way, shape, or form – it’s putting a Band-Aid on a huge social issue.

  6. ceridwen says:

    BunnyTwenty–
    Yes, totally agree. I didn’t mean to imply that Bloomberg was resolving issues to that extent. But wouldn’t that be awesome. We’ll never get there if we don’t keep making a fuss though.

  7. Fearless Formula Feeder says:

    Cerwiden, I appreciate your perspective as always. But I think, like so many other bloggers I respect and admire, you are missing the point that others are trying to make. I agree that there is a lot of hypocrisy in certain hospital settings, and that women are being given mixed messages. But the brouhaha over the Latch On campaign was NOT about removing the formula swag bags. (I’m over that, I really am. I mean, I still think it would be nice for the hospitals to accept them as long as the formula co’s are willing to provide them, and give them out upon request, b/c who doesn’t like free stuff… but it’s seriously not worth arguing about anymore.) The outrage came over the initial literature put forth by this campaign, where it clearly stated that formula should be locked up with limited access, and used language such as “if a woman still insists” on formula feeding, etc. After a bunch of us made a fuss, the campaign put out a rather shady, backtracking statement on its site in the form of a “Myths and Facts” document. I spoke to a source in the mayor’s office who confirmed that they realized they’d gone too far. So I’m frustrated, b/c then rational, sensitive, and influential people like you can then blame people like me for overreacting or being unsupportive to endeavors to help women breastfeed, rather than understanding why we were so pissed off in the first place.

    Look. There is no reason why hospitals can’t support breastfeeding women without making the choice to formula feed more difficult. Your statement that women will be able to state their decision to formula feed and be supported accordingly would be a wonderful compromise, if it were handled that way. But the Latch On initiative, at least in its original, outrage-provoking incarnation, did not allow for this. I would have jumped up and down in celebration if a city had put forth such an open-minded plan. But that is far from the case. They can temper their original statements all they want, but it doesn’t change the rhetoric they originally used – and continue to use – that clearly defines formula as a poor choice.

    BunnyTwenty made me other point for me so I won’t reiterate what she said. But I will just say, as one of the people being accused of going on and on about breastfeeding guilt – two wrongs don’t make a right. Supporting breastfeeding moms is important. But not at the expense of moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. It doesn’t need to be an either/or sort of thing, and this campaign is forcing it to be.

    My platform: Remove the swag, unless requested. Don’t push formula. Ask women how you can support them, before birth, and while on the maternity ward. Don’t scare women into supplementation or offer an SNS when needed. Don’t scare them into breastfeeding if they have expressed a desire to formula feed. Make sure you have LCs on hand. Also make sure you have people who are knowledgeable about formula on hand (you’d be surprised – medical professionals may know an insufficient amount about breastfeeding but many know even less about formula feeding). Stop treating women like vessels for milk, or alternately, future consumers for a formula brand which gives money to the hospital. End of story. Full stop.

  8. Cassie says:

    I agree with many of your points. But, cutting free samples of formula is taking away a valuable resource for a lot of people. Educate nurses on lactation and helping with successful breastfeeding. Change those policies. They told me my son needed formula because he had lost more than 10% of his body weight, ignoring the fact that they had been pumping fluids into me (and therefore, him) for the 24 hours before he was born.

    But let me take home my bag of stuff from Enfamil. I breastfed my first and plan on doing it again, but it was really nice to have a back-up of formula on hand so someone else could feed the baby and give me a break – I didn’t have a supply stash built up for the first two months. I wasn’t planning on formula feeding, and I didn’t want to buy formula for a back-up. But, having some formula in the cupboard made it possible for my husband to take a night-time feeding the first couple of nights and made recovering from the c-section much easier. It didn’t affect my supply, and it helped my recovery immensely.

  9. Jenny says:

    Instead of pro-choice Bloomberg sounds pro-breastfeeding. I didn’t want to breastfeed- no medical reason, I read the research, and I just didn’t want to. I was happy to give my son formula. I would not appreciate Pro-breast-is-best posters every where- that would make me feel like a failure more than seeing formula ads. I was nervous to tell the nurse that I didn’t want to breastfeed because I heard that my hospital was pro-breast. They never hassled me, never lectured me. They just brought the formula and helped me feed my child. I appreciated that I never was treated like a failure or like I was making a bad choice.

    I stand by my choice still and my son is 2 1/2.
    I do think hospitals should have more educated staff on hand to help the moms who want to breastfeed. But don’t make me beg for the formula or shove pro-breast literature down my throat. Make both choices freely available- that’s how you get free choice and let everyone make that right choice for themselves. More lactation consultants or better trained nurses plus formula.

    (And we only took home about 2 days worth of formula from our hospital. My son was on the expensive premie formula. It would have been really nice for a doctor/hospital to offer us more since they were prescribing it to him but I had to pay that extra cost. Nonetheless, he’s my child- I chose how to to feed him and I dealt with the financial cost of that. I’m very happy with my choice.)

  10. ceridwen says:

    Fearless–

    I haven’t read your blog on this one! Only lots of other articles elsewhere that gloss over things in a way I’m sure you did not. Thank you for clarifying some issues here.

    When I went to the Latch On website I saw a front up and center a paragraph about women getting to choose how to feed and I didn’t see the language about locking up the formula but again I’ve been a little late to this debate so maybe I missed an earlier iteration of the tenets of this initiative.

    I feel like the poster issue (Jenny) is such a complex one b/c it says “breastmilk is best” not “breastmilk is breast under the following circumstances… ” with a long list of all the various circumstances of women’s lives. BM is arguably “best” from a very strict ‘ingredients’-only analysis. And this is a poster put out by a public health campaign looking to fight obesity etc etc. And BF has been shown to help, etc. etc. PSAs are always pretty screwed up as they must get a nugget of health info across in the blink of an eye to a large, diverse population. They tend to provoke fear and rely on stark, reductive messages. They are all pretty whack– the SIDS ones? Awful!

    Maybe the hope is that these posters will get a segment of the NYC population who thinks breastfeeding is weird or gross to realize it’s not. Others will feel like it’s just more pressure. I know some women who need to be talked off the ledge about feeding a drop of formula. I know others who need to be reassured that breastfeeding is not child-abuse.

    Anyway, the politics of PSAs is another blog post. I do think that they are generally patronizing and my hunch is that– from a public health POV– they must be effective.

    I think women feel most empowered when the info about feeding (or anything for that matter — birth, circumcision…) is clear and not muddled by judgment. You can look at the benefits of both BF and F and off you go make a decision.

    I still think forcing hospitals to deal with the question of feeding more than they currently do is a fine idea. Getting formula companies out and reducing supplementation for questionable reasons (ie not medical, not mom’s request). The posters…. well, they’re complicated.

    FFF thanks for your comment, you always bring the conversation to a higher level because you know the issues so well! I love your platform.

  11. Fearless Formula Feeder says:

    Ceridwen – thanks. :) And I apologize for sounding crabby in that response. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way – I agree that a lot of the response to this initiative have not really approached the issue with the proper depth or perspective. It’s too bad the NYT/WallSt Journal/etc didn’t ask you and I for commentary… we could have done one hell of a point/counterpoint!

    I really do appreciate your perspective on this stuff – I think you are one of the rare bloggers/writers who can look at things from all sides and that is (unfortunately) rare. I may not agree on every point you made here, but I always applaud your intelligence, sensitivity and humor.

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