Mayor Mike “Nanny” Bloomberg of banning trans fats and large sodas fame had now moved on to infant formula in New York City hospitals:
Mayor Bloomberg is pushing hospitals to hide their baby formula behind locked doors so more new mothers will breast-feed.
Starting Sept. 3, the city will keep tabs on the number of bottles that participating hospitals stock and use — the most restrictive pro-breast-milk program in the nation.
Under the city Health Department’s voluntary Latch On NYC initiative, 27 of the city’s 40 hospitals have also agreed to give up swag bags sporting formula-company logos, toss out formula-branded tchotchkes like lanyards and mugs, and document a medical reason for every bottle that a newborn receives.
While there is some sort of scientific proof that trans fats and large sugary drinks are among the many causes of obesity, there is no evidence that today’s formula is inadequate. The ban is purely political. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend breastfeeding for a year, but the differences between breastfed and bottle-fed healthy babies are minor. The composition of infant formula is being constantly improved, and we are discovering that mother’s milk, too, in some respects comes short. Nursing mothers are now advised to supplement with vitamin D, although skeptical me wants to know if this has anything to do with the fact that we no longer sunbath our little ones.
I don’t know what possessed Nanny Bloomberg to move against the formula, but some militant breastfeeding types do refer to formula as “junk food for babies”. It certainly doesn’t act like junk food. Historically, lactation rates in the US have been low. By the mid-40s most American babies were bottle fed, and a decade later the rate of breastfeeding dropped to 20%. And yet the post-War generation didn’t know the obesity “epidemic”.
In 1956, breastfeeding matrons in suburban Illinois formed the La Leche League with a mission to offer lactation support to American women. The organization quickly spread around the globe, and is now found in countries where few babies are given the bottle. La Leche League International were devotees of the Brithish obstetrician and “natural” parenting advocate Grantly Dick-Read, and proselytizes not just breastfeeding, but an entire philosophy of “mothering”, including unmedicated childbirth and stay at home mommyhood. LLLI’s book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding finds its way into the library of nearly every new mother. I find the organization and their book very annoying.
I breastfed my children to 10 and 11 months (supplementing towards the end), and I highly recommend it. I happened to have natural childbirths, not because I planned it this way, but because I’m one of those freaks who finds it easy to cope with labor pain. I am a stay at home mom, although it’s something that I’m doing to be with my children when they need me most, not specifically to breastfeed. And while I’ve dealt with really cool lactation consultants, I have no idea where to find one not affiliated in some way with La Leche.
LLL distributes misleading information, and it does so through ostensibly respectable organizations. Towards the end of my first pregnancy I attended a breastfeeding workshop at my HMO, Kaiser Permanente. We were told, for instance, that babies born in anesthetized childbirth are disoriented and have trouble latching on, and that breastfed babies have higher IQs. Turns out, it’s only narcotics that cause drowsiness in babies, and the IQ discrepancy is attributed to genetics (upper middle class women are more likely to breastfeed). I found that the best argument for breastfeeding are social, not medical. There is no need to deal with equipment, it’s cheaper, easy for a stay at home mom, and every women in my family did it. The Nipple Nazis, however, push inaccurate medical information.
A few hours after giving birth to my first child, I had the pleasure of being yelled at by the Kaiser lactation consultant. My daughter had a problem latching on, I was in pain, and I complained to my nurse. “Oh, she’s just using your breast as a pacifier”, she said. “I’ll send in lactation consultant.” I repeated her exact words to the LC, not realizing that “pacifier” is a forbidden word. That’s when all hell broke loose: “SHE IS DOING WHAT SHE SHOULD DO!!!” I can see this woman relishing an opportunity to lecture a post-partum mother who dared to ask for formula.
I had a strong temptation to give up breastfeeding right there, but with all the lactivist agitprop fresh in my brain, I decided to stick with it. I can’t help thinking that the lady was mean because she could. If LLL weren’t scaring first time moms into falling in line, perhaps their faithful would behave themselves. And how did they end up in every hospital? And why are they influencing policies of state and local governments?
Mikie-Nanny didn’t invent the formula bans. Formula samples were recently outlawed in Rhode Island and Taxachusetts. An earlier 2005 Massachusetts ban was overturned by then-governor Mitt Romney. Before mommy spilled into the mainstream politics, militant breastfeeding types were content merely working with HMOs. By 2009, only 66% of the hospitals offered free formula samples to their clients.
When my first baby was born in 2007, I received some formula samples by mail. From what I recall, I requested the samples. Although I was determined to breastfeed, I thought it was prudent to have some formula stored — just in case, so that my husband wouldn’t have to run to CVS when we are sleep-deprived. At the time nearly everyone on the maternity circuit was talking about how underhanded it was of the formula-making corporations to offer free samples. They were akin to drug pushers who want your baby to be hooked on junk.
When I had my second baby two years later, formula samples were no longer delivered to my doorsteps. I’m not sure why. Instead, I had to put in a request to the hospital to include them into my welcome baby gift bag. Once I had the baby, the hospital staffers informed me that Kaiser no longer gives out formula samples. One would think that a mother who already successfully breastfed one baby, can be trusted with an adult product like baby formula… And yet.
The Jerseynut has a very good post about the issue; she wants to know why “keep your laws off my body” feminists seem indifferent about nanny Bloomberg’s dictate (via Legal Insurrection post of the day). Well, Doctor Amy, for one isn’t, but that’s because she made the name for herself, G-d bless her, by fighting unscientific crap aimed at mothers, particularly on the internet. She defends choice and explains that there is no evidence that access to formula samples at maternity wards decreases breastfeeding rates. But even though Dr. Amy considers herself a feminist, she is not a feminist functionary, and the feminist establishment is silent on this issue.
There is an overlap between lactivists and feminists. I once wrote about the feminist designs on childbirth. Truth is, although feminists claim that they want every woman to decide what to do with her body, they have an agenda for our bodies. The second wave feminist Bible Our Bodies, Our Selves, for instance, has a distinct crunchy flavor. Feminists see breastfeeding as a right that has to be guaranteed on every street corner, in every workplace, through extended maternity leaves and freebies to those on welfare. In my progressive knee-jerk feminist suburb breastfeeding, including extended breastfeeding is more or less the norm, at least among the white residents. Your standard left wing feminist is against patriarchy and, by extension, capitalism. So they hate corporations, including the ones that make formula.
If American moms prefer bottlefeeding, doctrinaire lactivists see it as a problem, and the problem has to be corrected by any means necessary. An old feminists refrain is that men have agendas for women’s bodies. Well, so do women. There are women in this country who will not be happy unless formula is only available by prescription, and even then they’d prefer a milk bank. They are well-organized, and they have the ear of big corporations, and, more importantly, politicians’ ears. I bet they are talking to bureaucrats in charge of implementing Obamacare. It is certainly their right to express their opinions and to try to persuade their compatriots. I think it’s a bit underhanded that they are not just talking to mothers and that they are bullying mothers, like in the infamous 2003 Department of Health and Human Services ad that compared formula to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant. What I find most alarming is that our health care is already so centralized that interest groups only need to talk to a few organizations in an attempt to influence behavior.