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Mother's Free Choice in New York City Hospitals

Thursday, October 25, 2012


 Recently, there has been a movement  in NYC to stop sending new mothers home from the hospital with formula samples - thereby encouraging mothers to breastfeed. What is problematic about this proposal is the assumption at its core– that women, left on their own, are unable to make the “right” choice for themselves and their babies.

Before I go any further, let me be clear that I don’t believe corporations should be able to advertise in our hospitals - including free samples sent home with patients. And I can also understand the temptation to limit access to formula; it’s the easiest and most cost effective way to combat the millions of dollars in ad campaigns encouraging women to use formula.
But what bothers me is the way this decision is being framed. It is as if health advocates believe women would be unable to make a wise decision given free choice. One concern, as expressed in a recent New York Times article is that “…formula samples, which often come in stylish bags with formula company logos….can sway women away from breast-feeding.” Right, because women are so fickle that a stylish logo can cause us to disregard the best interest of our children. Seriously, if you don’t trust us to make the right decision about baby formula vs breast milk, how can we ever be trusted with such serious decisions as voting or abortion? It’s insulting and a very dangerous line of logic to follow.
Some women argue that free samples encouraged them to give up on breastfeeding too early and also encouraged them to purchase the brand of formula they received the sample for. Therefor, I believe hospitals should stop providing these samples. Our hospitals do not exist to do marketing for billionaire dollar corporations. But when Mayor Bloomburg “urging hospitals to…. monitor formula like other medical supplies, stored in locked cabinets and accounted for when mothers have medical needs or request it” you are limiting a women’s ability to make a free choice. When formula is locked away some women might be too afraid to ask for it or unaware they have a right to. We are leaving new mothers to fend for themselves, unable to combat the deep feeling up inadequacy late at night when their milk won’t flow and their infant is hungry.
Also, can I point out the insane proposition of monitoring baby formula, the closest equivalent to the most nurturing food on earth – mother’s milk, like it’s vicodin? What message are we sending to women when the equivalent of what flows out of our bodies is treated like a lethal drug? Mayor Bloomberg, not sure if you thought that one through.
Rather than attack a new mother’s free choice, why don’t we work to educate women about the benefit of breast milk and better regulate formula advertisements to ensure mother’s receive accurate information. I believe women are capable of making the best decisions for their families. After all, we seem to have done a pretty good job for last few million years.

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