New Hospital Program Encourages Breast-Feeding by Limiting Access to Baby Formula

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Twenty-seven hospitals in New York City have signed on to participate in the Department of Health’s new initiative Latch on NYC, a program that encourages breastfeeding for new mothers by limiting access to formula. Ninety percent of mothers begin by breastfeeding, but two-thirds incorporate formula to some degree after two months. 

The program, which will roll into effect September 3, will also require that infants not be supplemented with formula unless it’s indicated on their medical records. But not every mother is on board with the new initiative. 

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is the author of a new article in The Atlantic entitled "A Woman’s Right to Choose (Not to Breastfeed)." She criticizes the policy as both an infringement on personal rights and an invasion of mothers' privacy. 

Under the new initiative, participating hospitals will be removed from maternity wards to encourage women to breastfeed. Breast milk offers numerous nutritional benefits, and the program is designed to educate mothers and families about those benefits.

In Lemmon's opinion, however, 'Latch on NYC' is pursuing the right goal in the wrong way. "Education is terrific; giving parents choices is terrific, but I think dictating choices and shaming new parents isn't helpful, and I don't think it actually achieves the end goal," Lemmon says. Having formula locked away, and requiring that parents give an explanation as to why they want to choose formula over breast milk, seems counterintuitive to Lemmon. 

"I do think that offering formula as an option in the hospital, and easing parents into this transition of becoming parents without judging them and without stigmatizing them, but continuing to educate them is entirely different than making them feel guilty or shamed." 

"I think the key to helping more moms to breastfeed is helping and encouraging, and not judging them," Lemmon says. She fears that the initiative will add guilt, shame, and discomfort to new parents who make the decision to feed their newborns with formula for whatever private reason.


Deborah Kaplan and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Ellen Frankman

Comments [13]

Latch on NYC Initiative – Myths & Facts (NY Breastfeeding Coalition)
Myth: The city is requiring hospitals to put formula under lock and key.
Fact: Hospitals are not being required to keep formula under lock and key under the City’s voluntary initiative. Formula will be fully available to any mother who chooses to feed her baby with formula. What the program does is encourage hospitals to end what had long been common practice: putting promotional formula in a mother’s room, or in a baby’s bassinet or in a go-bag – even for breastfeeding mothers who had not requested it.

Myth: Mothers who want formula will have to convince a nurse to sign it out by giving a medical reason.
Fact: Mothers can and always will be able to simply ask for formula and receive it free of charge in the hospital – no medical necessity required, no written consent required.

Myth: Mothers requesting formula will be subject to a lecture from the nurse.
Fact: The City’s new initiative does not set a requirement that mothers asking for formula receive a lecture or mandated talk. For the last three years, New York State Law under the Breastfeeding Bill of Rights, has required that mothers simply be provided accurate information on the benefits of breastfeeding. This requirement has not changed under the City’s new initiative.

Myth: Latch on NYC is taking away and/or jeopardizing a woman’s right to choose how to feed her baby.
Fact: The initiative is designed to support mothers who decide to breastfeed. For those women, the program asks hospital staff to respect the mother’s wishes and refrain from supplementing her baby with formula (unless it becomes medically necessary or the mother changes her mind). It does not restrict the mother’s nursing options in any way – nor does it restrict access to formula for those who want it.

Myth: Formula will be forbidden in some fashion.
Fact: If a mother decides she wants to use formula (or a combination of formula and breastmilk), she will be supported in her decision and her baby will be given formula during the hospital stay. If a breastfeeding mother changes her mind or requests formula at any time, her baby will be given formula.

Myth: Positive benefits from breastfeeding are being overblown or aren’t true
Fact: There is overwhelming evidence, supported by national and international health organizations, showing that breastfeeding produces better health outcomes for babies and mothers than formula. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Babies that are breastfed have a lower risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, as well as childhood asthma, than babies who are formula fed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics just published new guidance to pediatricians in February 2012, reaffirming the evidence that the health benefits of breastfeeding over formula are clear:

Aug. 09 2012 01:09 PM

The promotional samples of formula are not free. Even the food that is eaten in the hospital is not free. Formula will be available to those who need it or want it. I have worked with over 5,000 mothers. 90% of those mothers had to give formula to their babies despite wanting to breastfeed. About half, for no good medical reason whatsoever. It was hospital staff who pressured them into giving formula, or who simply fed formula to their babies without their permission. I've never met a single mother who was denied formula who wanted to feed their baby formula. Why is the news media not covering the generations of women whose choices were violated by the collusion of the hospitals with the formula industry.

Aug. 06 2012 08:11 PM
Martha from Massachusetts

Education, NOT Indoctrination. My baby, now 24 years old and bottle fed, went to college on a full scholarship, graduated Summa Cum Laude in two degrees,and went to law school on a full scholarship. Step up the education efforts pre-natally, follow up with consultants after the birth, and under no circumstances judge any mother on her decision. Forcing someone to breastfeed is equally unacceptable as forcing them to use formula. Mothers need options and not judgmental regulations at a time when they are seriously overwrought from giving birth. They don't call it LABOR for nothing!

Aug. 03 2012 11:57 AM
MK from NJ

If you want to feed formula and not get hassled, why not bring your own to the hospital? Bloomberg will be none the wiser.

Aug. 02 2012 06:32 PM
Jenny from Brooklyn

I was surprised to hear the commentator push so aggressively on this idea that many women are not educated about the benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, it seems that the benefits of breastfeeding may have been exaggerated, at least in the popular literature, and that many women, duly "educated," are dutifully breast-feeding for much longer than may be necessary--myself among them. I found Hanna Rosin's article particularly useful in parsing the differences between the science and the rhetoric: I think it is time that we view breastfeeding as a choice, just as attachment parenting, co-sleeping, stay-at-home mothering, homebirthing, and other contentious mothering issues are best left up to the individual woman to judge for herself, especially when the evidence is unconvincingly thin.

Aug. 02 2012 03:44 PM
CK from Yorktown

I'm with Gail: people area already encouraged to breast feed. It's not everyone's cup of tea: no need to force your norms on a new mother. (Let's make parents feel more guilty from the get go. That's great folks)

Aug. 02 2012 03:27 PM
CK from Yorktown

Wow: I can't even believe this debate. While everyone wants "choice" when it comes to what someone feeds their baby, let's limit that choice. I breast fed both of my kids but the free formula the hospital was nice have. Eventually, one might need to give a bottle of formula and while breast milk is great, it's not as if formula is poison.

If you are in favor of giving people freedom of speech, freedom over their bodies, why not freedom to choose what you feed the baby (and if free formula helps those less fortunate to feed the child,,,, ) why should anyone be able to limit that choice??? Unfair.

Aug. 02 2012 03:23 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Latching for some women can be difficult. My seven year old daughter had a difficult time latching on. We even called in a Lactation Consultant to no avail. The Hospital nurses made her feel like a failure. My five year old son latched on immediately.

The key to this conversation is that the hospital needs to be supportive to the women who just went through the process of childbirth.

My experience tells me that the Hospital should have a Lactation Consultant come in and speak to the parents either immediately after birth or if there is time before. The Consultant should not be opinionated and should just inform about how some kids may not be able to latch on.

If parents want formula and say they do, they should not be criticized

Aug. 02 2012 10:29 AM

The only way more women are going to breastfeed is to remove the formula from the hospital. If formula is treated more as a prescription (not literally a prescription, but "prescribed" by the baby's doctor), and only given when it is medically called for or the health of the mother indicates it, a lot more women would breastfeed. One of the major hurdles is convincing women in the lower economic groups that breastfeeding is best, and it is especially onerous when they are given free formula in the hospital. After the free stuff is gone, they will either need to find a way to pay for more, or the states pick up the tab for supplying it. Add that ear infections and illnesses are much more common for formula fed babies, and the medical bills soar. Breastfeeding is better for health, bonding, and for state funded medical care (and private health care as well, for that matter).

Aug. 02 2012 10:16 AM
Allison Perrine Cabaniss from Boca Raton, Florida

I had a breast reduction at the age of 24 and fall into that 1-5 percent of people who has a problem producing milk. I did it, it was hard, I had to really commit to it and thankfully, succeeded wholeheartedly while supplementing with formula. So, I understand the benefit if formula. BUT I was fortunate in that I was supported by everyone around me and a hospital committed to breastfeeding and long-term support. I say this because, I think the bond formed from the hormone influx of oxytocin in the mother is essential in parenting. I know this is a very bold statement, but I sincerely believe that it's part and parcel of many parenting problems we have today.

Aug. 02 2012 09:54 AM

As the father of two grown daughters who were bottle fed, I'd like to contribute a couple things:

1. I attribute my close relationships with both daughters, while maintaining a wonderful marriage with an amazingly intelligent, successful wife, to being able to easily take different feeding shifts thanks to "formula." During these shifts, I developed my "formula" for growing great kids: start reading to them from Day One – you're feeding their bodies and their minds.

2. I keep hearing people say formula fed children are at a learning disadvantage. My oldest daughter aced her ACTs, graduated with honors from Swarthmore and is in her third year of law school a Boston University. My youngest daughter just graduated with distinction from Yale and is working on a special UN-sponsored project in underdeveloped nations.

Can you imagine if they had been breast fed?

Aug. 02 2012 09:45 AM
Mario proud Parent from Atlanta, Georgia

If a parent is not responsible enough to request formula in a hospital I'm not sure that parent is responsible enough to raise a child. We're talking about the life and health of an infant. I think personal embarrassment of the parent is not even a factor

Aug. 02 2012 09:43 AM
Kathy Jackson from Denver Colorado

Yes, I agree...we should do everything we can to encourage women to breastfeed. The formula is counterproductive...I wish all hospitals would do this. Breastfeeding is free. Formula is very expensive...after you use up the free stuff. Great for mom...great for baby!!!

Aug. 02 2012 09:42 AM

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