On Monday I shared with you a post about Latch On NYC, a program in New York City designed to encourage breastfeeding by, according to media reports, taking certain measures to restrict unfettered access to baby formula. Yesterday the New York City Health Department left a comment on The Lunch Tray in response to that post. Here’s what the Health Department had to say:
We read your blog posting with interest and wanted to respond and address several inaccuracies. The piece states “So starting September 3, the city will urge hospitals to put formula under lock-and-key. Parents who want to bottle-feed their infants will have to convince a nurse to sign out formula for them by giving a medical reason for every bottle. They’ll also have to endure a lecture about why they really should be breastfeeding instead.”
This is actually not the case:
• In fact, the initiative does not require hospitals to “hide” or “lock up” formula, nor does it restrict access to it for those who want it. Parents who want formula will not have to convince a nurse to sign it out by giving a medical reason. Parents can and always will be able to simply ask for formula and receive it – no medical necessity required, no written consent.
For 3 years, New York State Law has required that mothers be provided accurate information on the benefits of breastfeeding. The City initiative does not require that mothers asking for formula receive a lecture.
The piece erroneously dismisses the positive health impacts of breast feeding for which there is there is overwhelming evidence — supported by national and international health organizations. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. For babies, breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, as well as asthma.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has just published new guidance to pediatricians in Feb 2012, reaffirming its support for breastfeeding:
Ultimately, our goal is to support a mother in whatever decision she makes when it comes to nursing her baby and this initiative specifically is designed to support a mother who decides that she wants to breast-feed by asking participating hospital staff to respect her and refrain from automatically supplementing her baby with formula (unless it becomes medically necessary or the mother changes her mind).
Bottom line: It does not restrict the mother’s nursing options in any way – nor does it restrict access to formula for those who want it.
And here is my reply:
To the NYC Health Department:
Hi, and thanks for stopping by The Lunch Tray.
Your comment has me scratching my head a little bit since not one of the offending sentences which you rebut above are contained anywhere in my blog post. I get the feeling your comment is actually a statement drafted by your office to rebut some widespread, negative publicity about Latch On NYC, and you’re now blanketing the Internet with that statement as fast as you can — without paying much attention to its recipients.
So allow me to introduce myself: I’m the mother of two children, both of whom I breastfed for a little over a year. In fact, my oldest child simply would not take a bottle from anyone, under any circumstances (stubborn little thing), so I think I more than amply demonstrated my commitment to breastfeeding that year — not to mention my stamina and patience. My belief in the merits of breastfeeding is precisely why I wrote in my post about Latch On NYC: “encouraging new moms to breastfeed is a very good thing, and so is banning from the maternity ward the shameless profit-seeking of formula manufacturers.” So for you to say that my piece “erroneously dismisses the positive health impacts of breast feeding” only confirms that you never actually took the time to read my piece before leaving your comment. Frankly, I find that annoying.
Because I was already supportive of your program in principle (and am all the more so now that you’ve provided more information about how it works in practice), I’d normally be inclined to brush off this mix-up. But your leaving this inapt comment on my blog points up a larger issue: the dismal job your press office has done in promoting this program and addressing inaccuracies about it in a timely fashion.
When the New York Post story broke on July 29, the very first thing I did was visit your Latch On NYC web page to try to verify the Post’s description of the program. Unfortunately, the most recent document posted on your website that day was a press release from May, 2012. That was still true twenty-four hours later when I was ready to post my story on The Lunch Tray. For that reason, I made clear to Lunch Tray readers that I wasn’t quite sure why Latch On was suddenly even in the New York Post, since nothing on your website indicated a change to the program since May.
When, in the days that followed, my Lunch Tray post garnered a lot of attention and discussion both on the blog and on Facebook and Twitter, I continued to visit your site periodically for any newer information you might provide, but none was available. Amazingly, despite the quite negative PR the program has garnered in some quarters in the last week, that is still the case as of my writing this reply on August 2. So instead of leaving comments on blog posts without taking the time to read them, perhaps someone in your press office could take a few minutes to actually put the helpful information you’ve shared here on Latch On NYC’s website for all to see? Just a thought.
The bottom line is that you and I are on the same side. I wholeheartedly support breastfeeding whenever possible, as its advantages for the baby are solidly documented, and I abhor the practice of allowing formula manufacturers to market heavily inside maternity wards. But as a blogger who is privileged to hear the personal stories of many readers, I also know that lots of well-intentioned women find out in the hospital that they can’t breastfeed for a variety of reasons, or they feel (or are advised) that formula supplementation is needed. Some of these readers expressed fear that this program will cause other women in their situation to be pressured or shamed, and I’m very glad to learn from your comment that this shouldn’t be the case.
Thanks for getting in touch and I hope you take my criticism of your press office’s performance in the spirit in which it was intended. I enthusiastically support efforts to increase breastfeeding in New York City hospitals and I’d like to see your department garner widespread support, not criticism, of this worthy goal.
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