As part of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s push to make New Yorkers healthier, city hospitals will restrict and monitor the distribution of baby formula to mothers starting in September.
The “Latch On NYC” initiative, aimed at promoting breast feeding, was launched in May by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. It asks city hospitals to voluntarily agree to limit promotion, restrict and track access to, and discontinue distribution of free formula.
While mothers won’t be completely denied access to the breast milk alternative, they will be required to listen to a counseling session with a nurse before they’re able to “check out” any formula.
Deborah Kaplan, with the New York City Health Department, said that the initiative is specifically for mothers who decide to breastfeed.
"If a mother comes in and says I want to formula feed my baby, that is her choice and that will be respected, and she will not in any way be denied formula," she explained. "If a mother comes in and decides she wants to breastfeed, which in New York City is about 90 percent of mothers, the conversation will be about: 'How can the nurse or the other hospital staff support her decision?'"
Kaplan added that with 90 percent of mothers in NYC choosing to breastfeed their newborns, it is imperative that hospital practices focus on supporting a mother's decision.
"Mothers, pregnant women these days are bombarded by marketing materials, by email, by mail, in magazines, by the infant formula industry. When a mother comes to a hospital, the last thing she needs is more marketing," she said.
New York Health and Hospitals Corporation already banned formula from promotions and gift bags in 2007, as did the state of Rhode Island in 2011, and Massachusetts just this July. While many health advocates have shown support for the initiative, some moms are miffed.
Reason Magazine Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward opposes the campaign, though she doesn't completely disagree with their mission.
"When you talk about supporting a women's choice that implies somehow that both choices will be equal, and that's just not the case. The whole point of this initiative is to push women to breastfeed," she said. "That's fine. There's some pretty good scientific evidence that breastfeeding is good for babies. But to simultaneously pretend that somehow this isn't tax payer money going to push women to do something, to choose one thing over another, is false."
Mangu-Ward added that mothers are savvy enough to navigate the infant formula industry's propaganda.
"Women aren't confused about whether or not breastfeeding is better," she said. "People choose formula all the time for very good reasons."
Breast milk versus formula debate aside, should the government legislate such a thing, or should the choice to breastfeed be left to mothers alone?
Deborah Kaplan, Assistant Commissioner for Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, New York City Health Department.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, Managing Editor, Reason Magazine