How Restrictive Is New York’s Breastfeeding Programme, Really?

Since news came out that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York state officials would be pushing an array of initiatives aimed at encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies, a lot of women who don't appreciate being told how to raise their kids voiced their discontent. The city's push, it seemed, was especially aggressive, with reports claiming that, under Bloomberg's autocratic decree, all the formula would be locked away in a giant formula vault — ostensibly so that new mothers wouldn't have a choice but to breastfeed, but really in order to sate the ravenous appetite of a giant subway cthulhu — to be signed out like medication.

News of the breastfeeding programme — "Latch On NYC" — followed so closely on the heels of Bloomberg's infamous city-wide ban on big fucking cups of soda that it seemed completely plausible. Why wouldn't the city restrict the easy flow of formula? It's already slowed the city's soda fountains to a trickle. Those who had criticized the Mayor for his seemingly "nannying" initiatives now had even more reason to fear that whatever shred of personal autonomy Gothamites had left was rapidly eroding. It turns out, however, that Latch On may not rely on the sort of negative reinforcement that made the soda ban so contentious.

Latch On has garnered so much fretful public attention because of reports that the city, in its zeal to have more new mothers breastfeeding, would employ more stick than carrot in purging its maternity wards of formula. According to City Hall, however, the initiative isn't aimed so much at restricting formula as it is teaching mothers the benefits of breastfeeding. "The initiative," according to information from City Hall, "is designed to support a mother who decides that she wants to breast-feed by asking hospital staff to respect the mother's wishes and refrain from supplementing her baby with formula." The City claims, moreover, that almost 90 percent of mothers begin breastfeeding, citing this as proof that "the intent" to breastfeed already exists. Rather than "hide" or "lock up" formula, the State Health Department merely recommends that hospitals not include formula in gift bags given to mothers when they leave.

New York State wants to encourage mothers to breastfeed because, according the state health department, breastfeeding can have demonstrable health benefits for infants, including fewer episodes of acute respiratory illnesses, inner-ear infections and gastroenteritis. Additionally, the health department says, mothers who do not breastfeed have an increased risk of bleeding and anemia, and have higher rates of breast cancer later in life. Currently, only 39.7 percent of infants in the State are breastfed (the goal in New York is 70 percent). Both the city and the state have made it clear that they'd like to see more mothers breastfeeding, even if their approach to encouraging breastfeeding is less draconian than previously believed.

New York's pro-breastfeeding stance draws criticism [MSNBC]