NYC breastfeeding: a new-old plan to wean the world off formula
Remember the Nestlé formula boycott? The long-term global effort to encourage breastfeeding as a healthier choice for newborns than formula – once focused on developing nations – is now a trend among US hospitals. But a new program to decrease the use of formula in hospitals, backed by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is being criticized as meddling in the decisions of mothers.
The collective howl of “nanny state” that met New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new “Latch On NYC” program, aimed at encouraging breastfeeding over formula, seems to have overshadowed the fact that the program is part of a well-established trend supported by medial associations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations.Skip to next paragraph
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The trend has echoes of the concerns behind the Nestlé formula boycott of the 1970s and 1980s in the US and Europe. That campaign contended that the Swiss company’s promotion of infant formula over breast milk was unhealthy, particularly in less developed nations where unsanitary conditions and nutritional deficiencies made formula a poor substitute.
New York’s move against automatically giving away free formula to new moms at hospitals is seen as a way to increase the incentive to breastfeed. It follows Rhode Island, which last year became the first state where birthing centers and hospitals voluntarily banned giving formula to new mothers in favor of educating them on the benefits of nursing. Massachusetts followed suit in July, with all 49 birth facilities voluntarily deciding to stop handing out free formula.
In 2005, the Massachusetts Public Health Council instituted a statewide ban on giving out free formula, but then-Gov. Mitt Romney overturned the decision a few months later.
There are currently 600 hospitals in the US that have banned the free new-mommy swag bags given at discharge from the hospital – discharge bags full of everything from formula to diapers and other baby gear. Also, hospitals can receive a "baby friendly” accreditation, which was developed by WHO and UNICEF in 1991 and is administered in the US by Baby-Friendly USA.
There is not yet enough evidence to track the direct impact of these bans, says Marsha Walker, executive director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA), who was involved in the legislative advocacy for the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. But she adds that there is an increased interest in hospitals providing lactation care services.
New York's first “baby friendly” hospital – Harlem Hospital – was where city officials announced the launch of the "Latch On NYC" program May 9. The initiative is aimed primarily at mothers who choose to breastfeed and helping them “to increase breastfeeding exclusivity and duration,” according to the Department of Health description.
Public health officials are calling on all New York hospitals to voluntarily commit to the initiative, which asks the institutions to enforce the New York State hospital regulation, effective since 2005, that breastfeeding infants not be given formula feedings unless by “a specific order by the attending practitioner or at the request of the mother.” The initiative also involves restricting nurses’ access to formula and developing a better tracking system for formula distribution. Hospitals will also agree to discontinue the distribution of free or promotional infant formula as well as prohibit displaying of formula promotional materials.
Hospitals run by New York’s Health and Hospital Corporation had already started banning gift bags and formula promotional materials in 2007. The current “Latch On NYC” campaign continues that trend as New York tries to increase exclusive breastfeeding for infants up to six months of age. Ninety-three percent of births in the city are at hospitals where breastfed infants are also given supplemental formula, according to the Department of Health.