Why Locking Up the Hospital Formula Isn't Really What We Should Be Angry About When It Comes to Breastfeeding

For years, we've been told "breast is best" when it comes to feeding our babies, but now New York City is making a move to get more new moms to put all the benefits of breastfeeding into action.

The New York Post reports Latch On NYC, a voluntary initiative from the city's Health Department set to go into action Sept. 3, won't deny formula for women who want it, but will store it under lock and key, so it will be dispensed like medicine and moms will be told by staff about the benefits of breastfeeding.

So far, 27 out of the 40 hospitals in New York have signed on, also ready to keep formula-branded items out of new mom gift bags and agreeing to give a documented medical reason for dispensing formula, according to the newspaper.

"The key to getting more moms to breastfeed is making the formula less accessible," Staten Island University Hospital's Lisa Paladino tells the Post. "This way, the RN has to sign out the formula like any other medication. The nurse's aide can't just go grab another bottle."

As expected, everyone is flipping out. Breastfeeding advocates support the move, pointing to the proven research behind the concept of the baby-friendly hospital. The short version is this: You only get one chance to start breastfeeding -- and getting off to a good start can make or break your success. Not being handed a goody bag filled with formula and marketing materials appears to make a difference (something the World Health Organization has been saying for years). Nursing rates are already up from 39 to 68 percent at one medical center in the city, according to the paper. And yes, research shows nursing is not only important for an infant’s health, but for a mother’s, too. And 33 percent of babies in New York currently receive formula in the hospital (as compared to 8 percent in Vermont, for example), according to the Associated Press

On the other side, of course, are folks who don't like the government telling them what they should or shouldn't do regarding their body and their babies. (And let's face it, the government hasn't always been that diplomatic in this conversation -- Cue the 2006 ad saying that not breastfeeding is like riding a mechanical bull during pregnancy. Um, really? Really?) Women are informed enough to make their own choice without being guilt-tripped into one or the other.

But here's the thing: If we really, truly want to support breastfeeding, let's really, truly support breastfeeding. Give new moms longer maternity leave. And flex time. Give them more and better access to lactation consultants. And private, comfortable pumping rooms. Don't guilt-trip women into breastfeeding (if women prefer formula, that's fine) or breastfeeding exclusively -- a combo of breast milk and formula may be the best option for some women. But make breastfeeding a more realistic option once moms leave the hospital -- which also means supporting moms who breastfeed in public. That, is what really would be "best."

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