Last year Massachusetts almost banned the inclusion of free formula samples in hospital gift bags for new moms. New York City has now instituted such a ban. So what did I think of the action in MA? My opinion hasn't changed much since then. I still don't understand why it's an either/or situation. Yes, I've heard the arguments. A good friend of mine is a lactation consultant. She believes that if there is formula in the house, then a frustrated, tired new mom will reach for it instead of trying to continue breastfeeding. That may very well be true or it may very well not.
As women, I think we are able to make our own decisions. I think as parents we do the best that we can, and we make the decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our own children. (Note that I decided not to say your children.) We know ourselves best, and we know our babies best. New moms already feel shaky enough about parenting a newborn baby (if you didn't then you have my sincere admiration and congratulations); we don't need the guilt trip on top of it. We already do that to ourselves. As such I find it offensive that lawmakers don't feel that we're capable of saying that we don't want the formula. Certainly when I was at the BlogHer conference this weekend, I purposely did not take swag that I didn't want including the free Curves bars (don't even get me started on Curves) because I knew if I had them I would eat them, and that's not what I want to spend calories on.
Of course, I should clarify that moms in NYC will still get formula if they ask for it. Likewise, many places have 24 hour pharmacies or grocery stores where formula can be bought. However, to me the point is not quibbling over $5 worth of formula, but the principle of it: we should be able to decide for ourselves. I know many mothers who chose not to take the formula. Then there are other moms like me who needed it (and realized that we needed it at 3 am when we were home, unable to breastfeed with a crying newborn). We got to choose. What is that saying about us as adults and particularly as women when we need to have a decision like that regulated by law? I am not arguing that formula is better than breastmilk. However, it's not as if we're feeding our babies rat poison. The government does not need to protect adult women from the choice to give their babies formula.
I have heard people argue that formula should be banned from gift bags because it allows a commercial venture to place their product samples with new moms in a form of shameless self-promotion. I have yet to hear that argument applied to the sample magazines, sample medicines, or other product samples that are often given for free by hospitals, sometimes in the same gift bags. This is about delegitimizing a women's choice to feed her child formula. It is not about striking down the excesses of capitalism.
We should not be attempting to hide formula. We should be promoting breastfeeding. There is still a terrible lack of support for breastfeeding moms. It is still illegal for moms to breastfeed in public in MA. Here's what I think would be a great gift inside the free diaper bag in NYC: a certificate for a free lactation consultant session. That may be asking for too much. On the other hand, it ought to be possible to give new moms a refrigerator magnet with phone numbers of lactation consultants and resources for breastfeeding. For example, my insurance company has a nurse hotline 24 hours a day. Presumably that hotline offers some breastfeeding advice, but it would be nice for new moms to have absolute confidence that they know where they can find help. If I were committed to breastfeeding and frustrated in the middle of the night, my first instinct would be to call a hotline for help. If that weren't possible, then my next instinct would be to call first thing in the morning. Yes, my hospital provided lactation consultants, but I know from my own experiences and from friends, the consultants were overworked and that they did not always have the time to give a really great breastfeeding session.
My final complaint is about the t-shirt. It says "I Eat At Mom's". I'll give you that it's clever. However, I view breastfeeding as a beautiful and natural occurrence; a special bond that can be formed (don't be so surprised, this is one of the reasons I was so devastated that I couldn't breastfeed although I did treasure my bottle feeding experience.) To me, it's the equivalent of eating at a 5 star restaurant. I wouldn't cheapen it by putting a t-shirt on your kid that basically says "I Eat at Ed's" (Ed Debevics anyone?) when your child has just eaten at the Rainbow Room. Ultimately though, it's your decision because just like everything else in parenting, we get to make our own decisions.
A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: It is possible and desirable to promote breastfeeding without limiting any woman's choice for whatever reason to feed her child formula.
For those of us who didn't get an instruction manual with our babies and for whom parenting hasn't always gone as planned. On a more serious note this blog is about supporting a woman's ability to make her own choices about parenting including the choice, for whatever reason, to bottle feed her babies formula.