Got breast milk? Give it to your baby, says Bloomberg


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When it comes to the health of his constituents, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has come down hard on such concerns as trans fats and more recently the sale of large, sugary drinks. The latest debate surrounding Bloomberg is not what he wants to see less of but rather more of: breast milk.

NYC advocates education, limiting formula promotion to encourage breast-feeding

If you ride the NYC subway, you may have noticed a series of posters touting the advantages of breast-feeding and offering information for moms. The posters are one part of New York City’s “Latch On NYC”  campaign that is designed to encourage breastfeeding over formula use.

While the posters aren’t much cause for concern, what does have critics’ attention is the campaign’s efforts to limit formula use by enforcing the New York state hospital regulation to not supplement breast-feeding infants with formula unless medically necessary, restricting access to formula by hospital staff, sharing formula distribution data with the health department and limiting the promotion distribution of free formula and related materials. Participation in this initiative is voluntary by New York City hospitals. According to the office of the mayor, 12 private hospitals and all 11 public hospitals have agreed to the effort.

According to the NYC Department of Health, the majority of mothers (90%) start breast-feeding; but by the time the baby reaches 2 months, only 31% of NYC mothers are still exclusively breast-feeding their children. Citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, the health department says that breast-fed babies are less likely to have ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and that breast-feeding moms have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers.

The health department claims that the promotion of formula use coupled with inadequate education and support for nursing mothers is to blame for the drop-off in the use of breast milk. According to the health department, 47% of NYC women report they stopped breast-feeding because they thought they weren’t producing enough milk, and 44% because they thought the infant wasn’t satisfied with breast milk alone, both of which are not true if breast-feeding is done exclusively.

“Human breast milk is best for babies and mothers,” says NYC health commissioner Thomas Farley in a press statement on the campaign. “When babies receive supplementary formula in the hospital or mothers receive promotional baby formula on hospital discharge, it can impede the establishment of an adequate milk supply and can undermine women’s confidence in breast-feeding. With this initiative, the New York City health community is joining together to support mothers who choose to breast-feed.”

Breast-feeding education is important, but formula limitation goes too far, manufacturers say

The International Formula Council, an association whose members include manufacturers and marketers of infant formulas, understandably questions that limiting mothers’ access to free formula has little effect on successful breast-feeding rates.

Citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, the IFC claims that not providing formula samples or coupons in a hospital gift pack was not associated with increased breast-feeding duration.  The group goes on to cite their commissioned 2009 survey of mothers, which found that 92% approve of hospitals distributing diaper bags that include free samples of infant formula.

The IFC says that it agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics that breast-feeding is the ideal but believes mothers should be allowed to make their own choices. It says that instead of focusing on formula bans, breast-feeding programs should focus on addressing such barriers to breast-feeding as the difficulty for working mothers to find the time and privacy to pump milk.

In the end, an educated mom knows best

For moms-to-be, the decision to breast-feed is often met with anxiety and trepidation. Many wonder if they will be successful and worry they will be seen as a “failure” if they have trouble. Fortunately, there are a number of groups, including La Leche League, that provide tools, support and information for new mothers.

While how to nourish infants is a personal choice, according to the Centers for Disease Control, women with the following conditions should not breast-feed:

•    Has an HIV infection
•    Uses antiretroviral medications
•    Has untreated, active tuberculosis
•    Has an infection of human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
•    Uses illicit drugs
•    Uses prescribed cancer chemotherapy agents
•    Is undergoing radiation therapy

The CDC also advises against breast-feeding an infant diagnosed with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder.