You know the diet books Eat This, Not That? I have my own version for today’s blog called Read This, Not That. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being targeted by the media for what critics say is an extreme citywide initiative to promote breastfeeding. If you only read or listen to the negative media, you will likely reach the conclusion that Bloomberg, along with city health officials, is forcing women to breastfeed by locking away formula and refusing to give any to mothers who request it. You may even believe that Mayor Bloomberg is going from room to room in hospitals, coercing women to breastfeed. According to the media, and thus word on the New York City streets, Bloomberg is stripping away women’s rights to choose how to feed their babies.
The reality? Mayor Bloomberg is simply supporting a proven strategy to help mothers who want to breastfeed realize success. New York City’s Health Department’s Latch On NYC takes key components of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, along with cost-saving processes used in many hospitals nationwide, and packages them into a public health initiative in which hospitals can voluntarily participate. It isn’t hard to find the truth. I found information for Latch On NYC in just 3 clicks. Here are the highlights:
By joining this voluntary initiative for NYC maternity hospitals to support mother’s decision to breastfeed, participating hospitals have agreed to:
- Enforce the NYC hospital regulation to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula feeding unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart;
- Restrict access to infant formula by hospital staff, tracking infant formula distribution and sharing data on formula distribution with the Health Department;
- Discontinue the distribution of promotional or free infant formula; and
- Prohibit the display and distribution of infant formula promotional materials in any hospital location.
These are all, to some extent, part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and what we are doing at our hospital in Indiana. Let’s take a moment for each point.
Bullet #1 Supplementing a breastfed baby with formula feedings for non-medical reasons is the strongest correlated factor for a woman to be unsuccessful in her efforts to breastfeed. If a woman comes to the hospital and says, “I want to breastfeed” and we (medical professionals) know there is something very well correlated with her being successful, why wouldn’t we implement strategies and quality improvement plans to help our patient! Adding the science behind the health benefits of breastfeeding with the woman saying she wants to do it, I cannot imagine a hospital administrator, nurse or doctor who would shake their head and say, “No, we’re not going to do that.”
Bullet #2 Change is hard. If you’ve been a maternity nurse for several years and all you have known is giving babies a little formula in order to help the mother rest before she goes home, it’s hard to change that behavior. Restricting access to formula helps us consistently implement what we now know about supplementing and breastfeeding success. Furthermore, restricting access helps with inventory and cost control. It’s not just formula that is being put into specialized rooms and cabinets that track who gets what out when, some hospitals are using these products for all their supplies.
Bullet #3 The formula gift bags. A couple decades ago formula companies decided to start giving a gift to all new mothers in the form of a diaper bag, coupons, pamphlets and formula samples. Nobody saw it as anything other than a gift until one day someone wondered if sending a mother home with a formula company gift bag would affect her resolve to breastfeed. It turns out that when women take the gift, they breastfeed for a shorter duration compared with women who do not receive one. It is time for hospital leaders to begin scratching their collective heads and wonder to themselves, “Why are we promoting and aiding in the marketing of a product other than our own?”
Bullet #4 The American Academy of Pediatrics calls breast milk the “normative standard” for feeding infants. Again, why would we promote anything else in a health institution?
No one is out to make the 10 to 20% of women who choose to formula feed feel badly. We want these mothers to feel confident in their ability to feed, care for, nurture and bond with their babies. And for the 80 to 90% of women who want to breastfeed, we want to implement every evidence-based practice that will help them be successful. Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg for helping his city hospitals do just that!
Click to read the dichotomous media coverage for yourself.