Carol Platt Liebau: Lactivism Creates the [Wet] Nanny State

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lactivism Creates the [Wet] Nanny State

This is guest blogger Ruth Anne Adams, "The Maternal Optimist."


New York City has taken its role as the nanny state to another level. Today it was announced that NYC hospitals are forbidden from including baby formula samples or information in the new mother gift bags. This effort is to promote breastfeeding.

Fair disclosure: I'm a mother of three young ones and I breastfed all three for one year. I'm also a working mom with a pretty supportive work environment and had to pump milk at work frequently. My twin girls were born extremely premature and so I had to pump exclusively for about 3 months before they could even learn to breastfeed. Suffice it to say I'm pretty darn dedicated when it comes to supporting breastfeeding.

But this just raises my conservative hackles. The choice of whether to breastfeed is entirely in the province of the parents. Mothers should be informed of their alternatives and should be allowed to pursue their preferred choice. Similarly, those who make infant formulas should be allowed to give away samples or, at the very least, product information, at a time when it's most able to serve the target demographic. I received such giveaways from my hospital stays and I put the freebies on the shelf in case I ever needed them. Just having them gave me a sense of peace that my babies would not go unnourished. It's entirely possible to support one [perceived-as-better] choice without outlawing the [perceived-as-lesser] other choice.

I'm all for breastfeeding, but I really believe New York City has gone too far. Again.


Blogger Earth to Carol said...

So it's ok for Prez Bush, Gov Jeb and the whole GOP to jump into Terri Schiavo's bed but when it comes to breast feeding and the health of infants they should keep hands off?

12:36 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

There is one important factor here that I think you're minimizing, and that is the fact that the new regulations forbid the hospitals from, in effect, endorsing formula. The regulations don't interfere with a person's right to purchase formula. They remove the implicit endorsement of formula that comes from the hospital's use of it. Given the health problems of formula, and the fact that hospitals are public institutions, I think this is a reasonable and prudent government action. I wouldn't be so positive if this regulation applies to hospitals that are not publicly supported.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

E2C: If you'd be kind enough to spell out what you see as similarities in the two cases, I'll see if I can fashion a reasoned response.

Chepe Noyon: Hospitals use formula all the time, especially in NICU settings. Does that constitute an endorsement? There might indeed be health problems with some formulas [digestibility with some babies], but they are, on the main, a well-tested food source. If a newborn was not nursing well, you can bet the hospital would administer any number of brands of formula.

My hospital used Pampers diapers on my kids. We only bought Huggies. That 'endorsement' didn't earn Pampers a customer in my case, but its desire to earn customers from parents of newborns certainly got the hospital diapers cheaper. And I most certainly benefitted from that cost-cutting maneuver.

I think I'd need to see what you meant by "the health problems of formula" because I might be missing something in your point. If you meant that it's intrinsically harmful I would see that as different from less beneficial than breastmilk.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Earth to Carol said...

I was poking fun at you labeling yourself a conservative, as if this means something. "Conservatives" do use their beliefs, whether religious or "family values" as a means to interfere in personal choice. Schiavo is one example. There are numerous more.

The two are related as they involve personal choice, civil and privacy rights and government regulation/interference.

Certainly everyone agrees the state should intervene if the child's rights and/or health are jeopardized by a negligent or abusive parent. Also most would agree cigarette manufacturers should not furnish samples to infants and children, even though that would be government interfering in the best interest of private business.

The real issue that you avoid or neglect is that infants are being tried as guinea pigs by for profit corporate interests:

Although soy infant formulas are now consumed by 20-25 percent of formula-fed infants in America, there is little research on the immediate and long-term health and cognitive effects of this diet in humans.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

If you meant that it's intrinsically harmful I would see that as different from less beneficial than breastmilk.

You make an excellent point, Ms. Adams. While it doesn't completely obliterate my claim, it does greatly undermine it. Thanks for correcting my ignorance.

6:30 AM  
Blogger One Salient Oversight said...

I too think that "breast is best" but I would certainly not prevent hospitals from stocking formula.

Before we had kids my wife and I decided that breast-feeding was the best solution. The problem was that 2 months after the birth my wife was not able to produce enough milk - we had to go to formula to keep feeding our son.

My wife has epilepsy too, and before we had our second child she began taking medication that had a major positive effect on her health (she has no more seizures). But we knew that the medication might affect the baby, so we risked having the baby anyway.

So in order to prevent the medication from going into our daughter, we decided that it was necessary for our daughter's health for her to be fed formula from day one.

As I said, we both believe "Breast is best", but in our special case, we needed formula. That, to me, is grounds enough for hospitals to keep formula there.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

It seems to me that no one is preventing the hospitals from stocking formula. Of course, medical situations arise and some babies will need to have formula. Hospitals should certainly stock formula for those occasions.

Just like hospitals need to keep diapers on hand for all of those new babies. Ms. Adams tries to compare her hospital using Pampers to hospitals giving away formula. Unless her hospital sent her home with free diaper samples, I think that it is a poor comparison.

And that, as Chepe Noyon points out, is actually the problem. Hospitals giving away free samples. When I was pregnant with my son I started receiving free samples of formula at my ob-gyn office as soon as I was seen for my first pregnancy visit. I was sent home from the hospital with formula samples after my son was born. No one sent me home with free breast pumps or information on breastfeeding. I wasn't given local La Leche League phone numbers or Medela's website in case I had problems. No one offered discount coupons for a local lactation consultant.

People try to claim that these samples are there to help women realize all of their baby's food options. But if they were really serious about presenting all of the food options out there, an equal amount of breastfeeding info and aids would go home with these women as well. It is marketing, pure and simple. These samples are not there to help inform women, they are there to sell formula. Since not too many people can profit from a food that your body is perfectly capable of making on its own, women are not given the amount of breastfeeding information that formula companies are able to hand out.

Doctors and other medical specialists are there to help mothers who find either themselves or their babies in medical situations where breastfeeding may not be an option. Formula companies sell formula. Period.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

Holly: You make several good points. My husband reminded me how much it cost to purchase and rent pumps and Medela and Aveda supplies. I did go home with diaper samples, by the way.

I'm similarly low intervention when it comes to "birth control." Doctors don't teach my method [Natural Family Planning] but they do offer some presciption information. Sometimes the low intervention things like NFP and breastfeeding still do require a bit of self-starting.

What I was saying is that I think it's laudable to promote breastfeeding, but I don't think you have to outlaw a reasonable alternative.

9:25 AM  

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