If you’re really thinking about it and not just squawking to be quoted, you’re going to have mixed feelings about New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s new push to get more women to breastfeed. Starting in September, 27 of the city’s 40 baby-delivering hospitals will begin to keep formula under lock and key, meaning they will only provide it to moms who request it or need it for a medical reason. Moms who do request formula will reportedly get a lecture about why breast is best.
Much of the debate has centered on, “How dare the city tell me how to feed my child?” And that might normally be me, but in this case, my first thought was, “Oh good, now maybe the hospitals will stop pushing formula.” Because believe me, they do. Any new mom can tell you that. How can they not? The entire maternity ward experience is practically “Brought you by Enfamil and Similac.” My impression: The formula companies have been so cozy with the hospitals for so long I’m waiting for them to sell naming rights to the maternity wings.
I remember being pushed to use formula by more than one nurse at the hospital where I gave birth. They would say things like, “This child still seems hungry. Let’s try the formula and you can try breastfeeding again later.” I’m pretty sure it messed with my supply, but what do I know.
I am the last person anyone would call “La Leche.” I believe in breastfeeding, but I also believe in formula. I believe in, “whatever works for the team.” With my own child I used both and I didn’t apologize for it.
If a mom has trouble breastfeeding, doesn’t want to breastfeed, or finds it too taxing on her mental state, she should reach for the formula. And she should not feel bad about it or be made to feel bad about it. By anyone. Not by a nurse in the hospital, not by the mayor.
A close friend, pregnant and scared, recently asked me about breastfeeding. I sighed and paused a beat before answering her. “Here’s the thing about nursing. Everyone has an agenda. I don’t know why, but they do. The hospitals push formula, I guess because they want happy, stuffed babies, and because they get so much from the formula companies. The La Leche League types push nursing, to a point that makes you feel bad. Don’t let anyone push you. You have to decide all this for yourself. And it’s really hard.”
So, while I’m glad to see efforts to loosen the hold that formula companies have on maternity wards, I worry this will lead to an overcorrection, with hospitals intimidating women and pushing them to do something that might make them miserable and that isn’t what’s best for the team.