Saturday, August 4, 2012

In which I drink the Latch on NYC haterade

I've been intrigued by the "Latch on NYC" anti-infant formula controversy this week. For the uninitiated, it's a New York City government plan designed to keep infant formula out of the mouths of newborn babies in the hospital while problematically not doing anything substantive to promote more breastfeeding. [In case it isn't already obvious, I'm opposed to it.]

There have been the usual criticisms that talking about Latch on NY is all yet another round of "mommy wars," and that our energies are best spent elsewhere instead of judging other people's choices. Well, yes - and to be clear, the only choices I'm about to judge are Mayor Bloomberg's. And yes, where's the guaranteed paid maternity leave for all?/private pumping spaces for all that aren't toilets?/the paid break time from employers? As in, all the things the rest of the first world has already figured out which make it possible for them to both work and breastfeed? Yes, we need to make some serious structural changes to the way America does business. Yes, we also need to also call out the times when the government fails to protect the breastfeeding rights of women. Yes, as a culture, we need to support breastfeeding, and see it as a positive practice. Yes, we need to tell the truth about the many, many benefits of breastfeeding. I get it. I hope critiques of what the hell is wrong with Latch on NY do not impede progress towards making any of those changes. Not that I think they will - as if any real progress was being made before this controversy arose!

Anyway, here are some of my favorite comments this week:

From @Drahill (comment #20) over on on Feministe--
"Here’s what gets me. Nationally, something like 75% of women nurse in the hospital. In NYC, it’s close to 90%. 3 months after birth, around 30% are still at it. Well, has it dawned on anybody that around 2-3 months is when lots of mothers go back to work? And that work isn’t exactly an easy place to nurse? Do they also realize that the nations with higher nursing rates provide paid maternity leave, longer leave, cover nursing expenses 100% and all that? But its easier to say “educate and encourage!” Because then, nobody talks about the actual biggest barriers to nursing."
My thoughts exactly!

It seems to me Mayor Bloomberg's mandate applies the power of the American city government to regulate the speech of doctors and nurses, directing them to have one-sided "breast is best" conversations designed to coerce women to make the "correct" choice. Yet in this case, even though some <90% of NYC mothers already breastfeed in the hospital, because some liberals like Bloomberg believe breastfeeding to be a public health issue of paramount importance, they're willing to ignore the rather obvious First Amendment problems, even while they hold the opposite view of the exact kind of government action when it comes to state-mandated anti-abortion speeches within the doctor-patient relationship. Apparently, breastfeeding is one of those Special Issues within public health where the ends justify the means. Despite having done no actual research to determine whether or not it will work - they're convinced Latch on NYC's hide the formula/give unsolicited advice strategy is the very best way to get those other >10% of NYC mothers on board with breastfeeding.

Has anyone asked the other >10% of NYC mothers why they choose not to breastfeed? Wouldn't that be a great place to start? But no, it's rhetorically easier and is extremely en vogue today after Citizens United to blame the big corporate bad guys than to figure out what we need to change structurally to make breastfeeding work for more families. May I suggest starting with making some changes to the New York City government's own policies for its workers? Bloomberg could make that happen right now. Why won't he?

As I said to one of my lactivist friends who thinks this initiative is the Second Coming, what if Mayor Bloomberg's next pet project is an anti-homebirth initiative or a pro-vaccination initiative, does everyone still honesty think these same passionate people will be applauding Bloomberg then? Or will they suddenly be able to see it for the massive overreach it is? (It sucks to suddenly have to agree with the Tea Party.)

Anyway, it's been fascinating to me how reasonable (and some decidedly not very reasonable) people can differ so vastly in their views on the policy. Some on the left have constructed this issue as one of government reigning in on formula companies in the name of public health, but if you really look at what will not be changing with this policy, it is easy to see that's something of a mischaracterization. What must the formula companies now do differently under the new Latch on NYC regime? Nothing. It's business as usual, best we can tell. They still get to drop off their free products and literature at all the hospitals - their marketing and labels are still visible - only now the hospital staff will put it in other places, we think? As of today, Bloomberg's own office doesn't even seem to know. Yeah, way to sock it to Big Forma. (Big Forma is a fun new term I learned this week. Nice, huh?) Way to hit them where it hurts and all. Oh, come on.

From @cherrybomb (comment #24) also on Feministe:
"If hospitals weren’t so shitty about ignoring women who say 'please don’t formula feed my baby' none of this would be needed. And what’s needed isn’t this new policy of making formula “less accessible,” what’s needed is doctors and nurses who actually pay attention to the wishes of the parents, whatever those wishes may be. This all just means hospital staff gets to keep being disrespectful to parents, it’s just now they’ll be pressuring for breasts instead of bottles. Any policy that is intended to make FOOD less accessible to INFANTS is a shitty policy, in my book."
Yes. That's why I'm in favor of the current system of allowing (most, but not all) people to select their own OB -- to make sure she's not a judgmental ass, or at least is not a judgmental ass in whatever way one finds troubling. I'm generally not in favor of the government telling medical professionals what they can or can't say to women, unless there is some compelling interest, which in this case, where the alternatives to breastfeeding are not affirmatively harmful to anyone, there's not.

So. I fully realize I hardly ever get comments when I talk politics and feminism like I've done here, but if you do have some thoughts to share I'd love to hear them. So long as you don't include obviously erroneous points like "formula is not food." And you'll notice you've gotten no personal nursing anecdotes from me, because it's irrelevant - I'm totally atypical. Please feel free to share yours though.


Got It, Ma! said...

hush, you're awesome and brave for taking this on.

This whole thing just makes me feel sick. Bottom line, whatever the aggressively pro-breastfeeding crowd says, breastfeeding simply does not work for everyone, for a variety of reasons. There are lots and lots of healthy kids who were not breastfed, or only breastfed briefly.

I'm completely with you that breastfeeding should be supported in our country in a multitude of ways that it currently is not. But when my very pro-breastfeeding midwives sat me down and said "you have to stop this" and handed me formula, it was a very, very good day for me and my baby. I'd hate to think that any healthcare professional could be barred from giving the kind of advice they gave me. They saved my mental health that day.

There are lots of good reasons to try to breastfeed. There are also some really good reasons to give up on it. Any one who insists otherwise and tries to limit women's choices in this or any other way has an agenda that is separate from, and frequently at odds with, each individual woman's best interest. And agendas like that have no place whatsoever in a doctor-patient relationship.

Do I wish everyone would at least try to breastfeed? You bet. I confess to being a little shocked by those who don't even try, although I am aware that it's none of my business how somebody else feeds their child. The issue, as I see it, is not so much that we need to support and promote breastfeeding. We need to support mothers. And, frankly, sometimes I feel like we support breastfeeding at the expense of mothers.

Why oh why do we have to be so f*****g black or white, all or nothing, my way or the highway in this country?

Nataliya said...

I find the entire topic of breastfeeding at all costs beyond troubling. Frankly I get so worked up about it that it's not healthy :)

You both have said everything I want to say wonderfully. Thank you for speaking out.

Lisa @ Trapped In North Jersey said...

Preach it, sister. This country pays a lot of lip service to bf-ing but certainly does not put its money where its mouth is. Any "solution" that is completely biased towards one side will never work.

feMOMhist said...

completely and totally agree. If the initiative were to make VBAC more inaccessible for example people would be screaming their heads off about women's rights to choose. I breastfed each of my kids for 16 months, but fMhson also got formula for the first month. NO ONE's damn business but mine and whatever people I chose to consult. It is a little strange how many people are happy to line up to tell adults what they can't drink, women what they can't do, who consider themselves liberal

mom2boy said...

"It sucks to suddenly have to agree with the Tea Party."

lol and I totally agree that overreaching is overreaching no matter if it happens to lean to the side you prefer.

For all our big talk about liberty, we a country that loves to restrict individual behavior.

Instead of providing women support and options, it's just more rules and restrictions. So effing paternalistic.

Vacationland Mom said...

At first I wasn't so sure which "side" I'm on... but after thinking about it for awhile, I've decided I'm more or less in agreement with you. I'm all about assistance for those in need, but this is more about trying to regulate behavior. You cannot regulate behavior, I don't care how many studies show differently, and it's patronizing to those you are trying to regulate (generally women and/or those on the margins, whatever that means).

Ianqui said...

This is a good post--thanks for pointing me to it. The thing is, one doesn't necessarily have to be opposed to Latch On NYC as it is now, because it's essentially a non-change to the state of affairs in NYC (as you point out). So it's not that one is siding with the Tea Party here, it's just that this initiative is laughable for anyone who seriously wants to increase breastfeeding rates (and increase them past 3 months, for that matter). It's not even a band-aid, it's just nothing.

Cloud said...

I'm super late to the party- I was out of town, then sick.. blah blah blah.

I have been sort of bemused by this whole uproar, because I was so surprised that there are hospitals where the formula is on the bedstand. I have no idea where it was in my hospital, but they did bring it promptly when my baby needed it. For all I know, it would have been on the bedstand if I'd said I wanted to bottle feed when they asked me how I wanted to feed my baby. But I said I wanted to breastfeed, and they did an outstanding job of supporting me in that. We then went on to breastfeed for almost two years- but that early formula supplementation was crucial. They also showed me how to do it without messing with my supply.

So I guess I'm having a hard time getting my head around the fact that trying to make other hospitals like mine is causing such a fuss. I guess the problem is that the rule took on the easy part- remove the formula- and didn't take on the hard part- support the mother and baby.

caramama said...

Once again, it's the politicians making a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

They. Are. Missing. The. Point! If you think that breastfeeding is the best--or even only (which it is NOT)--way to go, then there needs to be the entire structure in place. The larger picture, that you and others have said, is about supporting the mother and child in the long term.

You want policies to regulate behavior? Hush outlined them already: 1. Paid maternity leave so that mothers have time to establish the breastfeeding relationship. 2. Private and tolerable pumping spaces so mothers can go back to work and still maintain the breastfeeding relationship. 3. Paid break time or a set up to continue working in the private space. I've got others, too, like flexible working arrangements.

I don't care if you take away the formula from bedsides, but provide the real support mothers and babies need--in the hospitals and out. And let them know that sometimes? Breastfeeding is actually not the best option (says a total pro-breastfeeder). But we need to educate EVERYONE with enough information to make the decision themselves. Otherwise, aren't they just doing the equivalent of teaching abstinence and only abstinence? (No, you can't learn about or have condoms! You don't need them! Abstinence only!)

There are my 2 cents. ;-)