Formula vs. Breastmilk

New York City hospitals vow to quit offering baby formula to new mothers.

Breastfeeding a newborn can be challenging. Add to the mix, a well-meaning nurse who pushes formula, and it can be enough to make a confused new mom give up breastfeeding all together.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes moms need support and that having formula readily available at the hospital interferes with a woman's choice to breastfeed. So, he is inviting NYC hospitals to participate in the city wide initiative, Latch On NYC.

According to a press release issued by the New York City Health Department, the program involves both a hospital commitment to limit infant formula promotion and a public awareness campaign on the benefits of breast milk. Hospitals joining Latch On NYC have agreed to:

  • Enforce the New York State hospital regulation to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart.
  • Limit access to infant formula by hospital staff.
  • Discontinue the distribution of promotional or free infant formula.
  • Prohibit the display and distribution of infant formula advertising or promotional materials in any hospital location.

Twelve private New York City hospitals have already made the commitment and all 11 public hospitals run by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation also joined “Latch On NYC” in an effort to encourage new moms to stick with breastfeeding.

The CDC reports that most babies in the US start breast-feeding, but within the first week, half have already been given formula, and by 9 months, only 31 percent of babies are breast-feeding at all.

It's well known that when a mother leaves the hospital, she'll most likely be given a diaper bag filled with baby goodies such as coupons for baby wipes, a handful of disposable diapers, and a can of formula or two.

I remember cradling my starving newborn baby with one arm and rummaging through a gifted diaper bag with the other. It was my first afternoon home alone with my son and he just wouldn't latch on to feed. In desperation, I resorted to grabbing a bottle of formula that the hospital had sent home with me. My exhausted brain filled with worry; would one bottle ruin our breastfeeding success?  

Suddenly, I looked down to see that he had latched on on his own, moments before I was going to feed him the formula. I left the full bottle on the counter and never looked back. Latch On NYC aims to minimize those moments of doubt for mothers who wish to exclusively nurse their baby.

Breastfeeding advocates praise the move as a way to prevent formula manufacturers from influencing new mothers. Not everyone is thrilled with the new policy though. Many skeptics question if it will shame women who choose not to breast-feed and that the state should not step in.

The New York City Health Department insits that formula will be fully available to any mother who chooses to feed her baby with formula but will no longer be offered to breastfeeding mothers who had not requested it.

Do you believe that hospitals should stop offering promotional formula to new moms? Do you feel that the initiative will alienate mothers who choose to bottle feed their babies? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Athens Mama August 11, 2012 at 05:57 PM
One more thought about my "sense of entitlement" over women of lower socio-economic status. If you did a quantitative study on the effects of formula on women who don't have financial power - I bet you would find that there are DEEP PROBLEMS caused by the introduction of formula to women of LSES. See, what the doctors, hospitals, and formula companies don't tell those disempowered women, is that their babies are a lot more likely to experience digestive problems or lactose intolerance when they are fed formula. So, if their baby has to go through a bunch of different formulas to try to find the one that their little systems can tolerate, it's going to cost a lot more money than the parents might have thought. In addition, their babies might end up needing a much more expensive formula because of digestive issues, and WIC may or may not cover the costs of all the formula that is needed for that baby. In fact, I watched a baby whose parents would ONLY buy the amount of formula that the WIC coupons covered, and that baby had terrible acid reflux, and I had to buy extra formula just so that baby could be fed enough. The research done on the effects of formula on poor families in third world countries is testimony to the fact that marketing formula to women who would have otherwise breastfed is damaging to babies. Like the drug dealers - of course the first hit is free.
Athens Mama August 11, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I regret posting that your comment was inane, Marne M. Your comment was an empathetic consideration for lower income parents who are committed to breastfeeding and end up needing formula. I get that. I still think it's like C-sections in this country - it's an industry. What began as a helpful product or service became an out of control, for profit industry.
Marne M August 11, 2012 at 09:53 PM
I'm 20-weeks pregnant, so I tend to go straight to defensive these days. I think that breast feeding education programs ARE vital. I just resent anyone, be it the government or corporations, restricting choices that may be vital for some. I don't otherwise disagree with most of what you are saying. I breastfed both my kids, but having that sample of formula saved my life in the two days before my milk came in with my second child (who was over ten pounds) and collostrum would not do. I hadn't needed it with the first, and it didn't occur to me I would with the second.
Athens Mama August 11, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Honestly, as much as I believe in my opinion, I thought about your scenario again, and like you, there was no reason I would have bought formula to prepare for the birth of my second child. I didn't want it. It was nice to have the formula right there when I finally said, "I want to supplement." I agree with you also about people trying to force their opinions on others. Once someone has decided on formula, I don't want to demean that viable decision. Plenty of healthy children raised on formula only. I just want breastfeeding to be less of a crime and more of a collective, "This is what we do, and then there's a plan B." Instead, there's not enough info. for women who don't know what they might be getting into with formula or what they might miss if they don't breastfeed. I wish there were more community forums that involved women in their own communities - forums for women as a group, not just one to one. Even though we might not always agree, we always share information and benefit from hearing the thoughts and experiences of others.
Gail Lane August 12, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Wow! Very glad I had my children in the 90's when it was apparently o.k. to be personally responsible for making a decision that was right for me and my family! And thank goodness, at this time, there isn't some government entity checking my pantry for preservatives in my food and non-organic salad greens in my refrigerator. Hopefully, there will be no food police that shows up and monitors the meals that I feed my family, because, doggone it, some times I just don't get to the full balance according to the food pyramid! Again, it's not like these women are feeding their children crack. Well balanced formula is not BAD for a child. Is mother's milk better? Sure, in general. Some folks mileage may vary on that, but overall, no doubt. Does it work for everybody? Not hardly. And I'll leave you guys with this personal experience - My mom was 15 years old when her mother died in childbirth, leaving behind a 1 year old that was still nursing. Cow's milk just didn't work for him, and neither did the goat's milk that some of the well meaning aunts brought to try. He died of starvation shortly behind my grandmother. Some 20 years later, when my sister is born, there is an option of soy based formula for her and that quite literally saves her life. I'd fight for any new mother's right to breastfeed; I'd also fight for her right to feed her child from a bottle and I'd even hold the bottle if she needed.


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