Bloomberg Defends Breastfeeding Initiative

Critics are saying it’s another nanny state intrusion: the city Health Department is asking hospitals to put away the packaged formula and give newborn moms in the maternity ward the hard sell that “Breast is Best.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday defended the voluntary “Latch On, New York” campaign, which gets underway next month. Some 27 hospitals have joined and will begin taking a number of steps to encourage moms to nurse their newborns. Among other things, hospitals will store formula under lock-and-key, like other medications, so nurses don't just give bottles to babies, and instead work more with mothers to develop breastfeeding skills.

“Women who can’t do it, or don’t have the time to do it — you go for the formula,” Bloomberg said. “But I think most public health officials want to encourage women to breast-feed for the first couple weeks, because the outcomes are better, and if they can do it, that’s great, and if they can’t, they can’t.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have been encouraging nursing over bottle-feeding for years.

But opponents say exhausted mothers in the maternity ward shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get formula — and often just getting a nurse’s attention can be a challenge.

They also argue that improved health outcomes among breast-fed babies may have more to do with the higher socio-economic status of mothers who nurse than the nutritional content of milk.

But one 2007 "meta-study" by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of thousands of other studies concluded that even adjusted for income and other differences, babies who nurse have significantly lower rates of ear and stomach infections, bronchitis, eczema and asthma, among other things. There is also some evidence for better long-term outcomes — including reduced risk of Type I and Type II diabetes, obesity and leukemia — but those associations are not as strong.

Nationally, 73 percent of women initiate breast-feeding. At 6 months, 42 percent are still nursing, and at 12 months, that number is 21 percent.