In the “Mommy Wars” – nobody ever wins. There’s too much judgement and defensiveness going around, and too many personal feelings and pride at stake for there to ever be a clear winner. And yet, despite the fact that nobody wins, the same battles continue on, rarely flagging in heat, passion, and at times, vitriol.
The latest round comes courtesy of NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg and his “Latch-On” initiative. The initiative will change the current protocol surrounding formula use in NYC hospitals, requiring new mothers who want to use formula while in the hospital to sign it out like medication. Nobody will be denied formula, but if a mother requests some, they’ll receive a mandated talk from staff on why breast is best.
The push behind this initiative is to promote breastfeeding, yet many critics feel that instead of encouraging breastfeeding, all this initiative succeeds in doing is alienating and shaming mothers who need or simply choose to formula feed. Blogger Deborah Cruz, who wrote about Bloomberg’s initiative for The Stir, feels that the mayor went one step too far in attempting to promote breastfeeding:
This is just one more instance of government getting into mom’s business and women’s reproductive rights. You may very well be right, Mayor Bloomberg, breast milk may be best. I agree. But for those of who can’t produce, should our children be punished because our bodies don’t function effectively? Should we mothers be made to feel like criminals because for whatever reason we choose or need to give our babies formula?
Before I get into this debate, I’ll make my position on this emphatically clear (again): I believe that breast is best, and I breastfed my son for 3 years. However, I also am able to understand that not every situation is the same, and I can certainly understand Cruz’s (and others) concern over this initiative.
While Bloomberg’s intent may have been progressive, the way he went about encouraging breastfeeding seems anything but. Instead of supporting breastfeeding, it seems like hospitals will be limiting formula. I’ve written before about breastfeeding and formula, specifically about the formula “swag bags” many hospitals across the country still give out to new mothers. I still feel that corporations that are only attempting to squeeze more money from you once you’re back home have no place giving out free swag at hospitals.
Mothers can’t win. They’ll be vilified for choosing formula in the hospital, or, if they choose to nurse and dare to breastfeed in public, they’ll find plenty of judgment on that end (and heaven forbid you nurse longer than a year).
If Bloomberg really wants to encourage mothers to breastfeed, why doesn’t he work on the supportive end, rather than locking up the formula out of reach like it’s some sort of evil drug? As it stands right now – just like the majority of other Mommy War battles – nobody is winning with this new initiative. Not the mothers who want to nurse, or the ones who want/need to formula feed.
If Mayor Bloomberg, or any other well-intentioned politician, wants some feedback on what actually might create a playing field where there is true, legitimate choice? Read on…
1. Educate: Find a way to let folks know the differences between formula and breast milk in a way that doesn’t belittle, confuse, or judge. If we ensure that parents-to-be have a basic understanding of these two options, so they can make truly informed decisions, than we’re already half-way to success. Even G.I. Joe knows this.
2. Create an everybody wins swag bag for new moms: Let’s find whatever money is going into this initiative, and use it in a way that actually helps folks. Create a bag that provides free quality breast pads (not the disposable ones that inevitable stick to your nipples and get all gross), a breast pump/bottles, and the numbers/information for local LLL and lactation consultants. It can also have coupons for formula. This way, we’re closer to providing an actual choice.
3. Mandate some Maternity/Paternity leave, yo: This one is pretty self-explanatory. I know I’ve repeated this stat till I’m, blue in the face, but until it changes, here we go – we are only 1 of 4 countries IN THE WORLD with no mandated maternity leave. But if you’re so concerned with women breastfeeding their baby, why not provide them with some maternity leave that actually counts. When women have the time and ability to just *be* with their newborns, it makes the breastfeeding relationship that much easier to maintain and sustain. If her partner also has the ability to be home during the first few weeks, providing support and help when needed? Even better.
4. Provide actual support: One reason many women stop nursing their babies isn’t because they have unfettered access to formula while at the hospital. It’s because once they return to the workforce, they rarely have any support when it comes to pumping for their infants. Instead of locking away formula and lecturing mothers, why not lecture employers and encourage them to provide both the time and the space for mothers who would like to pump so they don’t feel torn between work and their babies. Of course, this is not the magic solution for every family, but it would probably be helpful for many women who have the desire to try and make it work.
5. Remember that women are smart, responsible, capable people: With access to information and true choice, we can actually make the right decisions that work for our families. Trust.
Think of this as my attempt at a Mommy Wars’ détente, at least when it comes to how we feed our children from birth. Is there anything I missed? Share with me below!