The wheels of the breastfeeding propaganda machine are rolling furiously in the state of New York. The state has banned the distribution of formula samples and any material promoting formula feeding from the diaper bags hospitals usually send mother’s home with. In an effort to promote breastfeeding, the bags are now being filled with disposable nursing pads, a mini-cooler for breast milk and a t-shirt for the newly born baby that says “I eat at Mom’s.” One of the hospitals, Jacobi in the Bronx, tried to obliterate formula feeding all together in 2005. Mothers can still get formula, but they have to make a special request for it. And if the nurses and staff in New York are anything like the ones I encountered here in Indiana, I feel for the poor woman who has the guts to ask for formula.
I understand why doctors are trying to get more mothers to breastfeed. It’s natural. It contains antibodies that babies need. It is the food Mother Nature intended little babies to be brought up on, and hey, it smells better than formula. However doctors, nurses, lactation consultants and it seems like everyone else in America has gone past encouraging mothers to breastfeed and have started a campaign to force them to do it. I won’t go into my ordeal with breastfeeding again here, I have a whole other blog on it, but suffice it to say that everyone around me made me feel like a failure because I couldn’t breastfeed my son. I tried, but nature had other plans.
So, what happens to women like me who even though we want to breastfeed, can’t? Or what about women who just don’t want to? We will yet again be made to feel like neglectful parents when we ask for the formula samples. While I’m sure the nurses will eventually hand over the dreaded formula can, I wonder how long of a lecture the new moms of the Big Apple will have to endure to get it and how many will rethink their choice and potentially put their babies in danger because of the pressure to breastfeed.
For those of you who don’t have children, getting a formula sample may not seem like a big deal. Formula is expensive and for at least the first four months of life (preferably the first six), it is all babies eat. An average can has about 26 ounces of powder in it and the name brands run about $22 a can. At five months, my son eats between 28-35 ounces each day. Keep in mind that the for each 6 oz bottle he eats, I only put three scoops of powder in, which equals about an ounce of powder. Still, since he eats that much five times a day that means a can of formula lasts about 5 days. In an average month, that means spending $120 on formula. Those formula samples in the diaper bags also come with formula coupons for as much as $7.00 off a can of formula. They also have feeding information, and websites to sign up on for more coupons, answers to common baby questions and lots of other good baby information, plus the companies will send you additional samples when you sign up on their websites. All in all, I got five free cans of formula, which saved me quite a bit of money, not to mention all I saved with the coupons which even places like Sam’s Club take. Luckily my son is not a picky eater and is just as happy with the discount formula Target makes, so instead of costing me $22 a can, I only spend about $12. Many babies, like my nephew, have sensitive stomachs or other digestive problems that require special formulas, so the free samples and savings really come in handy.
I’m not saying hospital staff members shouldn’t encourage new mothers to breastfeed. It is the best food for new babies, but the idea of banning formula samples from gift bags is too extreme. Even women who do decide to breastfeed occasionally rely on formula to help them when they can’t pump enough and have to be away from their babies. Several of my friends do this. Why not help them out? If women decide they have no use for formula, they can always give it back to the hospital or donate it to a local food pantry. Simply not making it readily available is the bully’s way of trying to get women to do what a group of people deem is best for them.
Although this is not the website I first read about the story on, if you want to check out the story as well as a lot of moms on both sides of the issue, you can go here. I thought about posting on that site too, especially since so many of the mothers who are so adamant about breastfeeding are saying that the formula ban is great because formula is bad for babies and the women who do it are terrible parents. Ok, not entirely true, but there is definitely an undertone of condescension toward those of us who have to, or chose to give our babies bottles. The one woman who said, “I assume, Sabrina, that if you’re a mother in NYC and you have a baby and you don’t want to breastfeed, you go out and buy formula. What a concept – buying things instead of expecting to just get it for free!” particularly pissed me off. Granted, I understand that choosing formula is pinning your family into a pretty hefty financial commitment, but if formula is your choice, and the companies are willing to give you free formula and coupons, why should mothers be made to feel like they are cheap, free loading individuals for wanting a little financial help for a product that is going to be a major expense for the first year? Breast milk is free and that’s great for families who want to do it, but why belittle those who don’t? Another post that got under my skin is this one:
I am pretty sure most of you are missing the point; the formula companies present new moms with gift packs of formula – it is a method of branding the mom and it is an easy way in the beginning to get the mom to use the formula instead of sticking it through. How often have we been in the position that we have a new baby, been very tired and thought about the rule that breastfed babies feed about every 2 hours, bottle fed every 4 hours. Every four hours, four hours… I could sleep! Or we worry that the fussing is about hunger and if the formula is next to us, we use it. Or its just an easy thing to turn to if you worry. When these “gift packs” are given to new moms we are given an out at a vulnerable time, when we need help to follow through with what is best for our babies. So, to not willy nilly give out the “free” formula will boost breastfeeding, but I am positive that since there are times when infants need formula doctors are going to have it on hand and since it is so incredibly lucrative for the industry they will seed the doctors with packs like other pharmaceutical companies do with their drugs. The only thing this law will do is make sure those of us who do not ask for formula are not given it, and that’s it.
This is exactly the mentality that will keep new moms from asking for formula. The assumption that all formula mothers are dumb enough to fall for company “branding” is insulting. Yes, I used Enfamil for the first few months of my son’s life, but that was because I got a lot of free samples of it. When I was sure my son was adapting to it and not going to have bad reactions, I moved on to the discount formulas. I am intelligent enough to think for myself. The second assumption that moms who use formula are lazy is probably the most insulting of all, and also the general attitude I ran up against every time someone who didn’t know me saw me pull out a bottle. The gift packs, ironic quotes aside, are given when new moms are vulnerable, that is true. I wanted to do what was best for my son, so I only breast fed him because that’s all I’d been told to do. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly (and yes, I know, a bit like a broken record), what was best for him was formula. Knowledgeable doctors, nurses and lactation consultants didn’t stop my son from coming home despite the fact he wasn’t thriving. In their enthusiasm to keep me breastfeeding, they overlooked the fact that my baby wasn’t eating properly. Formula wasn’t any kind of quick fix for me, but even if it was, what does it matter to anyone else? It’s attitudes like the one above that crush new moms and make us feel inadequate. It’s attitudes like these that bring about bans on perfectly legitimate nutritional options for children.
All New York is doing is adding stress to otherwise overstressed new mothers. While I am totally in support of any mother who chooses to breastfeed, I’m in equal support of any mother who reaches for formula. We’re all doing what we thing is best for our babies, and sometimes, whether breastfeeding advocates like it or not, that is providing our children with happy, healthy, sane mothers who don’t spend their days crying their eyes out due to breastfeeding difficulties. I’ve talked to a lot of new moms and haven’t met a single one who has shown any disdain for breastfeeding moms. I have not, however, encountered the same reaction when talking about formula feeding babies.