Latch on NYC – An Initiative that Fails to Consider the Well-Being of New Moms

A couple weeks ago, the announcement in the New York Post that Mayor Bloomberg was kicking off his Latch on NYC program intended to promote breastfeeding created such a stir in the blogosphere…and with very good reason.  My instinct was to blog about it.  But everyone was blogging about it.  They are still blogging about it.  And after letting the initial waves settle, I’ve finally decided to jump in.

I’m sure everyone is aware by now what this program is all about.  It’s NOT just about restricting the distribution of formula freebies in the “swag” bags that hospitals give to new parents as they leave the hospital, in an effort to increase breastfeeding rates, which is consistent with the ongoing effort over the past decade or so for maternity wards to reduce the amount of formula marketing.  It’s about REQUIRING hospitals to keep formula locked up and only available to a mother asking for it after hospital staff documents EACH AND EVERY occasion and reminds her that breast is best.  You no longer need your mom or mother-in-law to remind you that breast is best.  You’ve got hospital staff preaching it to you EACH AND EVERY time you ask for a bottle.  Having to be preached to by hospital staff for a decision that only the new mother and her partner should be making–and dependent, certainly, on circumstances like the health of the newborn and the condition of the new mom—is completely out of line in my honest opinion.  Frankly, I am disappointed in Mayor Bloomberg.  When people around me criticize him, I’ve been standing up for him.  Not any more, I’m not.

Granted, it’s been 7 years since I had my daughter and from what I recall, my “swag” bag contained more breastfeeding paraphernalia than samples of Similac and Enfamil and bottles from the likes of Playtex, Avent, and Dr. Brown.  But even back then, I felt pressure to breastfeed, given the countless images of breastfeeding paraphernalia that I kept seeing in magazines and on the Internet, and from all the people who kept asking me “So, are you going to breastfeed?”  I had planned to try to breastfeed for at least the first three months of my daughter’s life.  Though, I must admit I headed into it with much trepidation, not knowing what to expect or how successful I would be. I knew it was part of my maternal duty to provide the best nutrition for my daughter, so when I had to stop pumping due to the medication I had to go on for my postpartum depression (PPD), I felt so sad, so guilty.  But I knew I had to get better for her sake so I could be there for her and take care of her.  That was my #1 concern.  After all, what good would I be to her if I was completely ill and debilitated to the point of not being able to take care of her?  I was completely useless once I was caught blindsided and struck down by my PPD.  Now, looking back, I can honestly say I am content knowing that I did the best I could, given the circumstances with which I was faced.  I am content knowing I was able to provide some manner of breast milk to my daughter for the first one and one-half months of her life.

While I do feel that breast is best for the health of the baby (builds up immune system) and even for the mom (reduces risk of cancer), I am completely opposed to this dictatorial method of getting moms to breastfeed by putting formula under lock and key and only under medical circumstances can a mom ask for it.   Hospital staff preaching and unlocking formula for medical reasons only will only cause new moms to feel like they are in a prison. Formula is another feeding option.  Preventing moms from getting access to formula in the hospital, unless there is a medical rationale behind it, is so NOT RIGHT.

While I am all for the notion that breast is best, I am not in agreement that it is ALWAYS the best.  A woman has the RIGHT to choose how to feed her baby.  Whether she uses her breasts to do so or not should be up to her.  After all, her breasts are part of her body.   She should NEVER feel coerced into choosing one feeding option over another.  Some moms prefer to formula feed right from the get-go.  Some moms–and even babies–physically cannot do it.  They just can’t….and all you naysayers among the breastfeeding Nazi’s/extremists, yes, there are moms and babies who physically CANNOT breastfeed.   And then there are the moms, like me, who give it all they’ve got and under their particular circumstances (for me, it was childbirth complications, a partial hysterectomy three days after childbirth, anemia, extreme fatigue, being starved for about 6 out of the 7 days I was in the hospital, not enough lactation assistance, and overall trepidation and uncertainty with breastfeeding in general) had to stop after several weeks due to the extremely small quantity of milk produced, pumping such small amounts that there was no choice but to supplement with formula.

As a PPD advocate, I have to say that I absolutely DO NOT SUPPORT this Latch on NYC initiative.  We really need to avoid adding to the anxiety levels of new moms who face first-time motherhood with uncertainty and inadequate support (in general, and I’m not even talking about inadequate breastfeeding support).   A new mom, especially one who has already suffered from childbirth complications and/or neonatal issues with her baby(ies), needs support, not made to feel forced into breastfeeding if for whatever reason that does not end up to be the way she ends up feeding her baby.  The Latch on NYC program will undoubtedly make new moms who can’t/decide not to breastfeed feel guiltier than necessary, and that’s not an ideal way to begin her postpartum experience, her first few days of motherhood.  No, not at all.

If the intent is to boost breastfeeding rates, then there should be a direct correlation with the availability of breastfeeding support and education.  New moms need to be adequately prepared with such details as the process of milk production and who can address questions and concerns as they come up (e.g., what colostrum is and what it looks like, how long before real milk comes in, how long each feeding can take, how many feedings may be needed per day, why mastitis occurs and how to alleviate it if it does, and how to cope with leaky breasts).  For Latch on NYC to work and not have a detrimental effect on new moms, there should be an increase in the number of lactation consultants on staff at each and every hospital in NYC.  Is NYC prepared to do such a thing?  Hardly likely, since the objective is ALWAYS about cutting costs.  Hey, even the breastfeeding organizations out there will be the first to admit that the goal is to reduce healthcare costs, and hence, the number of trips made to a pediatrician.

Surely, Mr. Bloomberg, you can’t expect to increase breastfeeding rates without also ensuring an increase in education and support for breastfeeding?  Difficulties getting the baby to latch properly and breastfeeding complications like mastitis—these are but some of the factors that can contribute to an increased risk for PPD, which is why an increase in education and support are crucial.  There needs to be an uptick in breastfeeding (and also postpartum) support services that are easily accessible—not to mention, affordable—to new moms throughout NYC.  All too many moms are not educated on what it takes to successfully breastfeed on demand, around the clock during the first weeks.  You don’t know that all too many moms are left struggling to breastfeed without any help.  If all mothers had access to adequate support, I’m sure more moms would stick to breastfeeding longer. Fewer moms would give up out of frustration, complications, and sheer exhaustion.

Mr. Bloomberg, do you want to see an increase in the number of new moms embarking on their first-time motherhood experiences stressed out from your well-intended but poorly planned initiative (from a consequential standpoint of what this could mean to maternal mental health)?  Your intent may be noble from the standpoint of providing the best start to life for newborns, but it does not necessarily take into consideration the mental well-being of new mothers, now, does it?  Do you know what it’s like to struggle with breastfeeding challenges, inadequate support, extreme fatigue, childbirth complications, and neonatal complications?  Do you not realize that the health of the family unit is dependent on the health of the new mom?

Mr. Bloomberg, if you want to improve the well-being of babies, you cannot forget about their mothers. Hand in hand with this Latch on NYC initiative of yours should be an initiative to educate new moms and their families about PPD, as well as developing postpartum support programs, which are desperately needed but pitifully lacking.  You really need to be educated on maternal mental health issues at hand to know the impact your Latch on NYC program will have on new moms.

I’d like to end this post with some reminders to new moms faced with the decision of whether to breastfeed or not, or faced with breastfeeding challenges (including having to take medication for PPD):

  • Don’t let anyone else influence you into believing you must breastfeed. You and your husband are the only ones who should have any say in the manner in which you feed your baby. It’s no one else’s business. You will be making the decision based on what you feel comfortable with and what you think is best for your baby. Feeding your baby formula doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.
  • Don’t feel guilty or deficient about not being able to breastfeed.
  • Don’t feel guilty for having to stop breastfeeding if you need to take medication to recover from your PPD. The priority is for you to be well again so you can care for and establish a warm and loving relationship with your baby.

For more thoughts on Latch on NYC around the blogosphere, check out these blog posts:

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