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Government in Our Bras

NEW YORK - JANUARY 17:  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg holds two-week-old baby Sienna Farruggio after delivering the State of the City address at Flushing Meadows Corona Park January 17, 2008 in the Queens borough of New York City. Bloomberg, who is reportedly considering an independent run at the presidency, derided xenophobic politicians and said immigration and diversity were good for America. Bloomberg spoke against a backdrop of five ethnically diverse families living in Queens.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

My younger daughter turns 1 at the end of this month. She’ll be celebrating her first bite of chocolate, and I’ll celebrate the fact that not a drop of formula will have ever passed her lips.

I wish I could say the same about my older daughter, who is almost 4, but I was a breast-feeding failure with her. When I was pregnant, I took a class that detailed all the ways to hold your baby while nursing, but never once was it mentioned or even suggested that breast-feeding can be difficult and not nearly as natural as many women believe. And boy, was it ever difficult and unnatural for me. After a few weeks of trying (and plenty of tears—mine and the baby's), I stopped.

I attribute my success this time around to going into the experience knowing full well that it would probably be tough to get the hang of breast-feeding—for both me and my baby. I stuck it out this time because I wasn’t surprised or upset or frustrated with the challenges; I was educated, calm, prepared and determined. The difference was all in the approach.

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might want to take a few notes about his approach.

On Sept. 3, New York City hospitals will become the most restrictive in the country in terms of how they limit access to baby formula thanks to a new initiative, from NYC's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Mayor Bloomberg—called Latch On NYC. As part of the new program, gift bags from formula companies will be prohibited, formula will be hidden in locked boxes in out-of-the-way places (as is done with morphine and other narcotics in hospital) and those who opt to use it for their babies will be monitored and told about the superiority of breast milk.

Baby formula isn’t a painkiller that needs to be hidden from view.

There is no question that breast is best, and the World Health Organization recommends babies are exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life. But what’s best isn’t always an option for all women.

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Some new moms cannot breast-feed because their babies never properly latch on. Some have inadequate milk supplies or painful issues with their nipples. Some women go back to work shortly after giving birth and can’t pump enough in the office to be the sole supplier of their baby's nourishment for an extended period of time. And some women simply have no inclination to breast-feed.

Baby formula isn’t some painkiller that needs to be hidden from view, lest an addict snatches it and launches into a downward health spiral. Banning formula companies' swag bags from the maternity ward isn’t like denying a heroin addict her fix. And giving new moms several unrestricted options isn’t hindering the care of babies, it’s allowing women to act like adults—and parents—who make their own decisions based on what’s best for their families.

What if Mayor Bloomberg conceded that, in the end, it’s really none of his business if a woman chooses not to breast-feed?

Instead of shaming new, tired and overwhelmed moms in the hospitals from having unfettered access to formula, how about trying a different approach for a happier and healthier result?

What if Mayor Bloomberg, who recently proposed a ban on the sale of all sugary drinks over 16 ounces in NYC, focused his efforts on getting to moms-to-be before they give birth? Most expectant women are in their doctor’s office several times over a 36-week period. How about pairing up lactation consultants with obstetricians to give women sufficient information about breast-feeding and its benefits and, yes, challenges. This tactic certainly would have helped me my first time around.

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What if Mayor Bloomberg ensured that if a woman does decide formula is what’s right for her and her baby, she is educated on the different types of bottles and artificial nipples available and how much and how often babies should be fed?

What if Mayor Bloomberg conceded that, in the end, it’s really none of his business if a woman just chooses not to breast-feed, that it’s not always the right choice for every woman, and that’s really OK? While the benefits of breast-feeding are well-known, there is a sense of shame—that can come with making a postpartum woman jump through hoops to get a little baby formula—that seems to be a little less known. At least to Mayor Bloomberg.

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