Can government mandate breastfeeding?

Categories: Your life


This isn’t a topic specific to working moms, but when I heard about it, I stopped the Precor that was working me into a sweat and listened. I was a the gym this morning, watching the Today Show (love my daily TV fix at the gym!) and there was a story about New York City government’s new program to promote breastfeeding. As part of this program, all formula, bottles, and promotional materials from formula companies are being removed from the 11 public hospitals in New York City. Instead, each woman who gives birth at one of these hospitals will be given materials to promote breastfeeding. (They didn’t list them, but in one image that flashed across the screen I saw a nursing bra - how do they know the size? - and some brochures.)

I did breastfeed my daughter for 6 months and it was difficult, painful, and annoying because I had to pump 3x at work once I went back after maternity leave. I did it because I wanted to and because I thought I was doing the right thing. It was my choice.

But that’s the point - it was my choice and if I had chosen to formula feed her instead, that would have been my choice also. I think the government has a duty to educate its citizens - and all prevailing medical research suggests that breast-milk does have benefits over formula - but has no right to force these types of personal choices.

In other words, this really ticks me off and more so because I consider myself a New Yorker for life.

What do you think? Do you think this is the right move to help educate new moms about best options for their kids? Or is this a ridiculous intrusion by the government into moms’ personal choices and yet another way to pressure moms to be perfect? (Yes, my bias is clear.)

Share your thoughts!

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18 comments so far...

  • They aren’t going to have any formula at the hospitals? What about women who can’t breastfeed? My milk didn’t come in for over a week after my twins were born. Was I just supposed to not feed them? Bring formula from home? Or have my husband run out and buy it while I was in the hospital? I’m ok with promoting breastfeeding and giving new moms all the facts, but forcing it on them is ridiculous. Many new moms look to the doctors and nurses to help ease them in to this new role. We certainly don’t need these role models helping these moms become even more insecure in their role as new moms.

    Christine  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 11:04 am

  • It’s not popular to confess this, but I bottle-fed my son from the beginning, and it was a deliberate choice…I was very young when he was born and just not comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding, even though it was known to be healthier. (But he was a very healthy baby and a good eater, and completely weaned from bottles at 10 months. Anyway…) And i remember getting that formula gift pack when I left the hospital.

    I’ve heard about this happening in New York, and seen some praise for the city’s kicking corporate influences OUT (the formula makers) in the decision to do this. Since it’s only affecting the public hospitals, I guess they have their say - but I agree with you that education about ALL the options would be far preferable to forcing the issue this way. Plenty of women probably don’t even take, or use, the formula gift packs anyway. It’s almost like they’re just assuming that women will decide how to feed their babies based on the “freebies” (a nursing bra? seriously?), which is just ridiculous.

    Florinda  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 11:10 am

  • I think the idea is that to give ALL mothers the formula is to suggest that all mothers will need it - and for some new, uncertain, inexperience moms, that will be perceived as pressure, casting doubt on their ability.

    In the three hospitals where I gave birth, women were asked how they intended to feed their babies. If they said ‘breast’, they were given lanolin cream, a booklet on breastfeeding (including the numbers of some local lactation consultants and the public health line), some brochures about breast pumps, and, at one hospital, a couple of cute matching washcloth-and-bib sets saying BBB (breastfed baby). But no bras! :-) If they said “bottle”, they got the formula freebies. The choice was up to the mother. Seems a sensible enough solution to me.

    What *I* find the most offensive - farcical, even - about this whole idea is that someone thinks it’s a brilliant idea to try to promote breastfeeding - IN A COUNTRY THAT HAS NO PAID MATERNITY LEAVE. Does anyone but me see how ridiculous this is? If we want to promote BF-ing, why not start with allowing women the option to stay at home for a decent amount of time (six months, minimum).

    Any woman who returns to work six weeks after her baby’s birth and managed to continue breastfeeding is, to my mind, heroic. You’ve barely recovered physically, you’re still in the middle of huge hormonal flux, you’re not getting any sleep, you’re leaving your child in care to go to work - and you breastfeed? You deserve a medal of valour.

    You want to encourage women to breastfeed? Start with PAID maternity leave.

    MaryP  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 11:52 am

  • Amen to MaryP above!!! I totally agree. As far as the NYC story, since I didn’t see the Today Show, I can’t say for certain how I feel about this. However, I’m thinking there MAY be something positive about it, if it’s done reasonably (i.e., I would assume there will still be SOME formula in the hospital for babies who need it!).

    What I mean is, I find it very ironic, and very annoying and frustrating, that in a country where breastfeeding is promoted as best for public health, new mothers are still sent home from the hospital with whole promotional packs of free formula samples and all sorts of goodies from the formula companies. Unlike MaryP’s experience (mentioned above), I was not given any breastfeeding “swag” when I gave birth to either of my two girls, but I was given a little tote with formula and formula-company-related materials each time (two different hospitals), even though I planned to nurse exclusively.

    So, as for promoting breastfeeding by getting rid of all the formula marketing stuff at the hospital, I think that’s great. (Especially because I do think that to a new mom who might be struggling with breastfeeding–doesn’t this describe ALL new mothers, at least to some degree?–but who may be able to nurse just fine with a little more time and practice, getting that formula might send the message that she can’t, or won’t be able to, nurse exclusively. I think it also sometimes encourages moms to supplement with formula (it’s right there, in the cupboard!) when it’s not medically needed, which can then also complicate nursing by interfering with milk production, etc.

    However, if this is some sort of wild, overly-extreme mandate that would not allow any mom to make her own decision about bottle vs. breast, then I disapprove.

    Shannon  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 12:09 pm

  • I heard about this yesterday on the TV show, The View. I actually think (well, I can’t really tell you because I think most of my reaction was filled with 4-letter words)…. anyway, I am just against anything that is attempting to steer people in one direction only and worst of all, invade personal space.

    I am okay with the hospitals offering “choices”, but lay ‘em all out… and let the individual make the choice they want to make and feel good about it.

    Shelli  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 12:46 pm

  • I think NYC is doing a very good thing. It is rather gross that a hospital would be marketing formula. I absolutely think it’s the government’s job to legislate this; it is the government’s job to ensure maximum potential health and welfare for all its citizens and breastfeeding is a health and welfare issue.

    One aspect of this issue that is rarely discussed is the implied advocacy of the hospital for one formula brand over another. If I, as a new mother, leave the hospital with a sample of Brand X formula plus a couple of coupons, if I have some challenges with breastfeeding, I have a better chance of just using the formula than seeking out the appropriate professional assistance. Further, when I’ve sabotaged breastfeeding by using formula inappropriately and have to buy more, I’ll be buying what the hospital sent me home with, because, duh, if the hospital is giving it away, they must think it’s great!

    Whether you choose to breastfeed or use a substitute, the hospital has no place influencing you, especially when using formula means negatively impacting the child’s health from a nutritive, developmental and physiological standpoint.

    The government makes us put our children in car seats and boosters, they ban the use of walkers and have minimum safety standards for every product that may come in contact with our children. Is it really a stretch to see formula officially discouraged and breastfeeding formally encouraged, even institutionalized?

    mamaloo  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 2:00 pm

  • [...] banning of free formula distribution. The buzz about the new regulations had lactivists, pissed off working moms, and my office* chattering. A coworker is annoyed- “What’s next, she wondered, not [...]

    rock on, NYC & my office:) « daisybones  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 2:30 pm

  • I can see both sides of this issue, but based on my personal experience, I was thankful the hospital had provided me with formula after the birth of my son. I was gung-ho to breastfeed while I was pregnant, and just knew that I would do that exclusively. There was no way I was going to need formula, so I didn’t buy any.

    When I had my son, the hospital did not have a lactation consultant, and I had no support in learning how to breastfeed. What little I learned, I figured out on my own. After two weeks of constant screaming, we figured out that I was not producing enough milk, switched my son to formula, and his whole disposition changed. The only reason why I tried the formula was because I had the freebie one from the hospital. Since I was on unpaid maternity leave, I could not afford to hire a private lactation consultant to help me with breastfeeding.

    I am pregnant again, and will attempt to breastfeed, but will gratefully accept the free formula from the hospitai in case we go through the same thing again.

    alanaransley  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 3:59 pm

  • I complete agree with MaryP.

    I just wrote about how the state of Ohio is considering a new law that would “one up” the federal government. As it stands, across the country, employers with 50 or more employees must allow mothers 12 weeks of maternity leave. The new Ohio legislation would apply this rule to all businesses with four or more employees. That’s great, but why is there no mention of *paid* parental time off?

    Mothers know they have a choice with their newborn — to breast or formula feed. And hopefully each mother makes an educated decision, one that’s right for her and her child.

    But how can lawmakers step in on such a personal decision…yet remain silent when it comes to the issue of paid family leave?

    amaras_mom  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 6:17 pm

  • Amen to MaryP! I returned to work after 4 months and breastfed without formula through the first year. It was totally exhausting trying to pump multiple times a day. This was my choice but I have to admit that I felt enormous pressure to do it this way because the lactation consultants in our hospital put a lot of pressure on new moms to avoid formula at all costs–which I’m assuming will be the natural outgrowth of the proposed NYC laws. Intellectually, I knew that using formula would be perfectly fine, but there was just soooo much social pressure to make it through the first year. Mothers and their partners should be provided with all of the appropriate information and lactation consultants should just lay-off all the guilt/not so subtle criticisms.

    How annoying it was when I once pulled out a bottle of expressed milk from my free-from-the-hospital insulated bag complete with Similac icepack just to receive a lecture from a co-worker about the virtues of breastfeeding vs. formula. “It’s none of your business, and, by the way, this IS breastmilk!”

    Jennifer  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 9:37 pm

  • I also saw this story on the Today Show. I write for a local weekly newspaper and have chosen this story as one of my topics for next week’s paper.
    I have an 18-month old daughter who is extremely smart and healthy, although she only received breast milk - and small amounts of it - for about 3 months.
    I had a breast reduction 10 years ago and my milk never fully came in. Besides that, I didn’t work at the newspaper then and my job was not so flexible as to allow me to pump as much as necessary. I was only able to give her small amounts of breast milk mixed with formula.
    I am Pro-Choice. I, obviously chose to have my daughter. But…that’s the point. I had the choice. When it comes to anything involving a woman’s body - it should be HER choice. The government should, in no way, be allowed to tell a woman how to feed her child.
    Please educate women on the benefits, but do not force one or the other. It’s just one more way the government is sticking their toes into our privacy.

    Meg  |  August 5th, 2007 at 7:28 am

  • Hospitals will still have formula. They just won’t hand it out for free to everyone. It is part of the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative which is something the US is performing horribly with. When you hand out formula and provide it for free without giving much or any support to breastfeeding, then women are less likely to breastfeed. When you can’t afford formula, breastfeeding is exactly what you should be doing not getting free cans from everywhere. I personally exclusively pumped for a total of 14 months between my two girls because they had feeding problems related to prematurity. It isn’t fun, but since when is everything in life fun?? It’s what was best for my girls, even though I was in school/work full time when both of them were born.

    Kristie  |  August 5th, 2007 at 10:47 am

  • Hey Nataly,
    Massachusetts already blazed this trail:

    I think it’s good policy, but I respect those who disagree.

    Jane  |  August 6th, 2007 at 10:57 am

  • I know that breastfeeding is difficult and time-consuming and not every woman can do it. But from a medical perspective (I have edited a lot of articles about this), breast milk is hands down simply the BEST food for a baby. Too bad we don’t have breastmilk banks anymore– that could solve so many problems.

    There is an international treaty that most physicians (any of them worth their salt) have signed agreeing NOT to undermine breastfeeding, and so to actually SUPPORT it in a hospital? By not providing formula and by actually providing little care packages designed to support and help the breastfeeding mother? I am flabbergasted with joy! I don’t view this as government intrusion or trying to put pressure on women at all. Formula is right there at the grocery store– don’t need to give it away free. And, as it has been pointed out, breastfeeding IS difficult– so why not support that?

    I don’t think the government can or should mandate breastfeeding– but I LOVE the fact that women are being given materials to support them FINALLY with breastfeeding. It’s been too long coming.

    Jen Creer  |  August 6th, 2007 at 11:31 pm

  • I don’t know the fine details of this proposed legislation, but it may very well be a good thing, if it counters a very bad one.

    Hospitals should not be *marketing* formula, and even more, should not be marketing any particular BRANDS of formula. I like the idea of asking new moms, first, what their own feeding choice is, and then supporting that choice. Unfortunately, breast feeding has often been short-changed even though it is proven to be better for babies. That was certainly my experience. I was determined to breast-feed exclusively (and yes, it was hard!) but all I received in hospital was a cursory visit from a 15-yr old “lactation specialist” — and then was sent home with bottles, formula, and all the accoutrements for a choice *I HAD NOT CHOSEN.

    I’d go even further out on a limb and suggest that if any marketing is to be done, it’s appropriate for a hospital, precisely in its role as health provider and promoter, to market *breastfeeding* as the best choice for babies. Paid maternity leave is a must, yes. Choice for mothers who can’t breastfeed is also a must. Nevertheless, even incremental improvement in respecting both our health AND our choices is better than none at all, and here’s hoping for a snow-ball effect that benefits ALL moms!

    almostgotit  |  August 8th, 2007 at 7:11 am

  • The simple truth is that breastfeeding is simpler, more natural, more eco friendly, cheaper, and undeniably healthier. Personally, I have breast fed each of my children to or past 9 months and each of them have enjoyed formula to fill their bellies during working hours and I was not producing enough milk for them. I do not think it is logical to conclude that a government hospital’s removal of formula promotion packs and replacing them with breastfeeding support is limiting a woman’s choice. If that were the case, then the government has been limiting women’s choices for a very long time in the flip-side scenario. It is not the government or any hospital’s job to educate a mother about her options. Their job is to help in the delivery of that baby as safely as possible. It is the parents’ job to decide how to feed their children, government influence be d-mned. After all, the government aren’t the parents, we are. We are far more capable of assessing the situation as it is. We are Americans, independent, educated, and capable.

    Don’t these policies really just come into being because of issues concerning the nation’s less empowered? I say let the overspent government off the hook solving everyone’s problems and mentor an unwed teenage mother instead. ( or someone else who could really use a boost)

    I don’t mean to sound harsh to others that I disagree with, your own stories are your own and I don’t know them. I only feel the need to be firm and clear in my perspective.

    Ruth  |  August 13th, 2007 at 9:09 am

  • It was a few years ago that I was a new Mum and breastfeeding. It came as naturally to me as cuddling my incredibly perfect son. It was the early 80’s,and beleive it or not, I think things were more lienient then than what I hear is happening now. I had my biggest problem with my own parents, who were so put out that they couldn’t feed him and take him with them to show him off whenever they wanted to. He was the only grandchild. My mother, who still enters a room breasts out-thrust, would rather die than take the chance of losing any muscle-tone.Grampa just was fiercely embarrassed by the whole business. It was definitely ‘OUT’ in the forties & fifties. I carried an attractive shawl wherever we went, and only once was I asked to move to a more”secluded” table in one of our favorite resteraunts. This never kept a curious crowd of well wishers and all my liberated friends from pulling up seats and hovering over me and my beautiful boy. We did make a gorgeous picture if I do say so myself. My hair was long enough to cover my breast and Patrick’s head, his hair was almost white, and I swear it looked like a halo-especially with all the static electricity in February & March in Boston! I have to say that I had very little to complain about over all. I did get mastitis,which is caused by impacted milk ducts, that creates
    a high fever and can (and did) progress into a form of delerium , where you are oblivious to the people around you and in such excruciating pain that death would be a welcome blessing! All you can do is take a weak antibiotic and force yourself to nurse,which in a relatively short time relieves the pressure and the pain. After that you are very careful not to go too long between feedings, and if you find yourself in a situation that your’e going to be away from your little munchie-man for longer than anticipated-(which happens to all of us-more often the longer you nurse. I nursed both my sons till they were 18 months.My friend Bethaney breastfed at least 2 of her children until they were three years old and bike-riding!) You may want to employ your loving husband to help out and take the top two pints out of the equation! I was in a movie theatre watching the first Indiana Jones movie(How could I leave? Not even!!) When my milk’came in’. Manfred, wonderful,caring man that he is, went out to the car and came back with our largest beach towel which I proceeded to soak thru before the end of Indy! I myself never got the hang of the infuriating breast-pump. Maybe they have come up with a kinder,gentler pump by now?

    Cinde'B.  |  April 29th, 2008 at 12:21 am

  • I think we can all agree that breastfeeding is the healthier choice, that it IS a choice, and that hospitals should not be marketing formula. I think that hospitals should support the new mother’s choice, whichever it is. And I have to agree with MaryP - breastfeeding my three month old (I returned to work when he was six weeks) only works because my employer is flexible - I live in a state where you have next to NO rights as far as breastfeeding goes - they just can’t charge you with indecent exposure. Employers don’t have to offer breaks, pump rooms, etc. I’m lucky that I’ve found a way to continue working while pumping - and CindeB…based on my own mum’s comments, I think pumps have improved. My mum has said that had she been able to find a decent extraction device, we’d have been BF for longer…but like us, she had to return to work for money reasons.

    CV  |  January 30th, 2009 at 12:01 pm