Feature

Breast-feeding: Bloomberg’s latest edict

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing mothers to breast-feed their newborns.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a charming edict for new mothers, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. “Breast-feed or else.” Starting next month, his administration will begin requiring hospitals in the city to keep their infant formula locked away like medication. If a new mom asks, a nurse will dole out some liquid baby formula. But first the nurse must “deliver a grim lecture” on why breast is best, and record a medical reason for using formula. Who is Bloomberg to intrude in this very personal decision? said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in TheAtlantic.com. “Women opt not to breast-feed for myriad reasons.” Some find it too painful, while others don’t produce enough milk. Those women are already made to feel like failures by breast-feeding zealots, who insist that nursing is “a mandatory prerequisite for ‘good’ parenthood.” By “treating Enfamil like a narcotic,” Bloomberg will only add to new mothers’ anxiety and guilt.

Breast-feeding is a legitimate public-health issue, said pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp in the New York Daily News, and Bloomberg is right to encourage it. “Breast milk is extraordinarily complex,” filled with nutrients, antibodies, and other beneficial substances that aren’t present in formula. Studies have found that breast-feeding boosts a baby’s immune system and brain development, and reduces its risk of obesity later in life. But formula manufacturers spend millions of dollars every year promoting the misleading propaganda that “factory-made formula closely mirrors the nutritional content of breast milk.” Weary new moms can fall prey to that propaganda, said Bonnie Rochman in Time.com. When my sister-in-law recently gave birth via C-section, a nurse encouraged her to give her baby a bottle, and in her exhaustion and anxiety, she relented—even though she’d intended to breast-feed. “‘I was a new mom,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know what I was doing.’”

But what about the new moms who have to quickly return to work? said Hanna Rosin in Slate.com. In our country, most working women get only a few paid weeks after they give birth. Some get none. Millions of these women work out of economic necessity, and their labor is critical to the economy. So instead of treating infant formula like “poison,” we should recognize that it is a cornerstone of modern American capitalism, enabling women to be as productive as possible. “American employers are certainly not going to pay them to stay home and breast-feed.”

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