New York City’s erstwhile Mayor, Michael Bloomberg is making news again today, August 2, 2012, as more critics are lining up to accuse him of mandating breastfeeding. The Mayor recently ordered the city’s hospitals to stop giving out infant formula beginning in September, 2012. To comply with the new rules, formula will only be available to mothers for medical reasons and it will be kept in the same locked cabinet as medication. Hospital staff will be required to sign it out, track its distribution and report usage figures to the Health Department. As of August 1, 2012, 27 of the city’s 40 hospitals have agreed to comply with the orders.
Bloomberg, who just last week suggested the nation’s cops should go on strike until private gun ownership is banned, has even managed to offended breastfeeding advocates like Rosemary Scott. The former member of La Leche League, an international breastfeeding education organization, was not pleased with Bloomberg’s tactics, as she indicated yesterday, when she said, “”I’m another former member of La Leche League who nursed all my kids. I’m all for encouraging women to breastfeed but agree that this is NOT the way to do it. Leave it to Bloomberg to be so heavy-handed as to turn off even a breastfeeding advocate like myself.”
While supporters of personal freedom call the new rules the “Formula Fatwa” and the “Mammary Mandate,” observers of New York City politics say this is really a struggle between the City and big business. The infant formula that is at the center of the debate is provided to hospitals in the form of samples and given to mothers free of charge. There is a great deal of profit at stake for the formula industry and free samples are an effective way to introduce a particular brand of formula. The formula freebies are also an inexpensive form of sales promotion that saves manufacturers a fortune every year in advertising costs.
Concerns were also raised that over worked nursing staffs in the city’s hospitals may cause unnecessary discomfort to mother’s who have just given birth and are trying to recuperate before beginning to breastfeed. In today’s Wall Sreet Journal, blogger Jacoba Urist recounted her difficulties getting her baby bottled fed so she could get a few hours sleep after an exhausting delivery. She suggested that if nurses had trouble providing formula for her child three years ago, that it will only get worse once the new regulations go into effect.
Ms. Urist explained, “I’m all for women breastfeeding if they want to (as I did). The health benefits of breast milk are pervasive. We should support mothers who choose to breastfeed with things like greater social acceptability and public lactation rooms. But Bloomberg’s program forces women to defend a valid request for baby formula. It preys on women in the days (sometimes hours) after they deliver a baby. If I, a fairly confident, opinionated lawyer, had trouble standing up to the breast-feeding brigade at the hospital, before the Bloomberg lock-down, I can only imagine what New York moms face today. Or come September.”