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NYC program shouldn’t restrict mothers from formula

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Latch On NYC” movement has put baby formula behind lock and key. About two-thirds of New York’s hospitals are participating in the movement, which restricts new mothers’ access to formula. Although it won’t be denied to women with newborns, they will now have to specifically ask for formula and go through a lecture on the health benefits of breast milk each time they need it.

It’s true that breast milk is better for newborns than baby formula. WomensHealth.gov, a site by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cites how babies raised on breast milk are less susceptible to asthma, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes than those raised on formula. But these new restrictions Bloomberg has put on new mothers’ access to formula don’t take reality into account.

The reality of the situation is that not all women have the time or energy to breastfeed or the money to buy expensive equipment for breastfeeding. Breast pumps can cost up to $400, equipment that isn’t always covered by health insurance.

What’s more, a campaign of this type has the potential to create a social stigma around baby formula. Messages that support breastfeeding as the only way to nourish your newborn can easily be translated into “If you’re a good mother, you’ll breastfeed,” or “only mothers who can’t properly care for their child use formula.” These messages are reinforced by the fact that a mother has to sign for a bottle of formula, like she’s buying a controlled and prescribed drug.

Instead of restricting formula, Bloomberg should make it easier for women to breastfeed; working on changing the public’s perception of the practice. Why not make restaurants and workplaces more breastfeeding friendly? Or subsidize breast pumps and other lactation devices? Measures to encourage breastfeeding are more ethical and considerate of new mothers than limiting their options.

Restrictions like those instituted by “Latch On NYC” fail to take the pressures of reality and circumstance into consideration. There are better ways to encourage breastfeeding than making the process of getting formula that much harder for new mothers.