Breastfeeding experts are applauding New York City’s “Latch On NYC” initiative, which aims to encourage breastfeeding and curb baby formula use in hospitals, but some mommy bloggers are not happy, and they are taking their grievances online.
One of these bloggers is Katherine Stone, a 42-year-old mother who lives in Atlanta. In her Babble blog post on Monday — titled “Back Off of the Mamas, Mayor Bloomberg!” — she criticizes the additional monitoring of formula use in hospitals.
“It’s a thin line,” she said. “I think it’s a little bit scary because it begins to infer that it’s a bad, bad thing to feed your child formula.”
Meredith Carroll is a 39-year-old mother and Babble blogger who lives in Aspen, Colo., and she, too, takes issue with the impending New York City policy.
“This isn’t morphine,” Carroll said. “I’m not a drug addict that needs to be kept away from a drug. I just want to feed my baby.”
Both bloggers said they realized that the initiative would not affect them directly, as they do not live in New York. But the plan will see 27 of New York City’s hospitals implementing its policies on Labor Day, which include keeping formula in locked storage rooms and monitoring its use.
The initiative will also discontinue the practice of hospitals distributing free infant formula at the time of discharge, prohibit the display of formula promotional materials in hospitals, and encourage greater enforcement of existing regulations prohibiting the use of formula for breastfeeding infants unless medically indicated.
It is not the first time the availability of baby formula in hospitals has been put under the spotlight. An August 2011 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lambasted hospitals for not adhering to steps designed to encourage breastfeeding in hospitals spelled out by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
The initiative, sponsored by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, suggests that hospitals “[h]ave a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff” and “[g]ive no pacifiers of artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.”
At the time of its report, the CDC noted that only 4 percent of hospitals had adopted at least nine out of 10 of the steps included in the initiative, and that 9 percent of hospitals had adopted two or fewer of the steps.
Breastfeeding experts said that in light of this dismal situation, the New York City plan is sorely needed — and they say such policies will not restrict mothers’ choices in feeding their infants.
“Locking the formula up and paying for it does NOT mean it won’t be available for mothers who choose to exclusively formula feed or for mothers who want to supplement or for medically necessary formula supplementation,” wrote Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper in Camden, N.J. “It simply helps keep track of usage and cuts down on indiscriminate use.”
Feldman-Winter, who is a published researcher on the topic of infant formula use in hospitals, said closer monitoring of formula has been demonstrated to make a difference.
“We have shown that once the formula is kept in a locked cabinet (“locked up”) and used only when medically necessary, then the usage is cut in half, resulting in more infants exclusively breastfeeding, an outcome good for the infant, family and our society as a whole,” she said.
Dr. Miriam Labbock, director of the Center for Infant & Young Child Feeding & Care, also agrees with Bloomberg’s move to institute the plan.
“It is amazing to me that so many papers have somehow headlined that this deprives folks in some manner,” said Labbock, who was previously in charge of UNICEF’s efforts to encourage breastfeeding, in an email to ABCNews.com. “All other nutraceuticals and drugs have been controlled under lock and key in all hospitals for ages — formula had been the only unfortunate exception.”
The point on which everyone seems to agree is that breastfeeding is the ideal approach. Blogger Stone said most of the discussion she has seen online recognizes the fact regardless of position on Bloomberg’s plan.
“People who can have a reasoned discussion about this really do understand the importance of breastfeeding,” Stone said. “It’s important we promote breastfeeding… I support the idea of promoting breastfeeding and increasing the percentage of women who do it. It is crucial thing.”
And according to the Latch On NYC website, there is no requirement for new mothers to breastfeed while in the hospital. “While breastfeeding is healthier for both mothers and babies, staff must respect a mother’s infant feeding choice,” the website states.
But the site does encourage hospital staff to remind mothers of the health benefits of breastfeeding when they request formula. Among the recommendations offered on the website for hospital staff is advice that they can “[a]ssess if breastfeeding is going well and encourage the mother to keep trying” and “[p]rovide education and support to mothers who are experiencing difficulties.”
Stone said that for women who can’t breastfeed, the policy would represent another hoop through which these new mothers would have to jump — possibly adding to their guilt at the worst possible time.
“I hear from moms who have all sorts of problems related to breastfeeding, whether it is the inability to produce enough milk, or medical conditions they have, or their baby having problems breastfeeding,” Stone said. “There are a lot of things that lead a mother to not being able to breastfeed.
“Many of them do go through the experience of having people judge them for that. People saying they are selfish, or that they don’t care about the baby.”
Carroll said she knows firsthand the guilt that comes with not being able to breastfeed as a new mother. She writes in her blog that, at the time her older child was a baby, she had tried unsuccessfully to breastfeed her.
“It’s not up to me or Mayor Bloomberg to pass judgment on any mother who makes a choice about how to feed her baby,” Carroll told ABCNews.com. “It’s embarrassing for a new mother to go out of her way to ask for something she may need or may want. Maybe someone who hasn’t been in that situation is not aware.”