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Lay Off Bloomberg’s Latch On Campaign

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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