The latest salvo in the Mommy Wars was not fired by a woman—but rather by a well-intentioned NYC program to limit women’s access to formula in the days after delivery. Driven by grassroots pressure to “normalize” breast-feeding, beginning 3 September, participating NYC hospitals will now keep formula under lock and key as if it is a controlled item, and the city health department will keep stock of how much formula each hospital has. Perhaps most disturbing, a medical reason must be documented in the patient’s chart when formula is requested (as if infant hunger isn’t reason enough!) and if a mother requests formula, she will receive a—in the words of the NY Post article—a “talking-to” from staff before the formula is permitted.
As a mommy of two, I understand wanting what’s best for your child. That being said, the decision to nurse is an incredibly personal one, requiring a level of commitment that no government regulation will be able to instill. My primary reason for leaving the military was the welfare of my (then) 15-month old, which—thanks to the support of my husband and my commander—I was able to nurse until she was 11-months old. So when my son was born, I thought I had this whole nursing thing figured out, until he refused to eat for the first week, and then wanted to eat every two hours for the next five weeks. I could get him to sleep for four hours through the night if—and only if—I nursed him nearly continuously from eight to ten. At two in the morning, the idea of nudging my sleeping husband awake so I could pass him a hungry baby and tell him to go make him a bottle was an alluring idea, except for the cost of formula and my vanity (breast-feeding is a wonderful weight loss program!).
Yes, breast-feeding provides wonderful benefits for mother and baby. It’s why the World Health Organization recommends delaying solids until six months and nursing until the child is a year old; and cancer rates are lower in women who nurse. But real life has a funny way of intruding into theories. Some women have to go back to work almost immediately, and knowing this, they don’t want to start nursing because then they have to turn right around and wean. Some women don’t want to nurse. Some women don’t feel they can produce enough milk or are so exhausted after a long labor and delivery that the last thing they want is to know the nurse is going to wake them up every three hours to ensure their milk supply is established.
If New York City—or any other city—really wants to encourage breast-feeding, they should start a voluntary program with employers to encourage time to pump on the job. In Texas, employers offer a 15-minute smoke break twice a day for their employees. How hard would it be to offer a 15-minute pump break for a new mom twice a day? The benefits to her and her child would be enormous. I know that in the future, if I am ever an employer, I would voluntarily offer this.
Additionally, by restricting the “swag bags” hospitals pass out (courtesy of the formula companies) laden with free formula, the city is hitting poorer families harder. If you must start an infant on formula, you often need to sample several brands. Now those families will have to pay for their samples, and families like mine, who take the free formula to food banks, can no longer do so.
It’s rather disturbing, too, that the government would decide what’s best for us based on studies. If a study comes out showing that children of stay-at-home moms perform better than children of working moms, is the government going to forbid mothers to work? What if studies continue showing that home-schooled children perform better than public-schooled children in college? Will the government then mandate parents MUST home-school? It seems really ironic, too, that a government would now suddenly be so concerned with the welfare of a child that just days ago it thought was okay to abort.
Most mothers I know spend enough time these days worrying about their decisions and the way they will affect their children. Intervening in the Mommy Wars is just one more overreach of a paternalistic government that seems determined to parent not just us, but our children.