Starting September 3, baby formula will be a controlled substance at some New York City hospitals. Under the health department’s voluntary Latch On NYC program, 27 hospitals are literally hiding the baby formula under lock and key, tucking it away in distant storerooms and locked dispensaries like legitimate medications that need to be tracked.* Nurses will be expected to document a medical reason for every bottle a newborn receives, and mothers will get a breastfeeding lecture every time they ask for a bottle of formula.
The NYC health department describes Latch On NYC as “a citywide initiative to support mothers who choose to breastfeed and limit practices that interfere with that choice.” (Just a note, health department: If a woman is breastfeeding mostly just because the doctor won’t let her have a bottle, it’s not exactly a choice.) Participating hospitals agree “to not supplement breastfeeding infants with formula unless medically indicated and documented on the infant’s medical chart” and to note on the chart whenever a mother chooses to bottle-feed her baby despite instruction to the contrary from hospital staff.
With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why should offer the breast instead.
“It’s the patient’s choice,” said Allison Walsh, of Beth Israel Medical Center. “But it’s our job to educate them on the best option.”
Lisa Paladino, of Staten Island University Hospital, said: “The key to getting more moms to breast-feed is making the formula less accessible. This way, the RN has to sign out the formula like any other medication. The nurse’s aide can’t just go grab another bottle.”
The key to encouraging breastfeeding is to withhold any other option from new mothers. And to remind them every time they request a baby bottle that really, they’re depriving their baby of a healthy start at life and should probably feel guilty about that.
*Update 8/1, 6:30 p.m. According to Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary in Mayor Bloomberg’s office, the information on the Latch On NYC site was wrong, and hospitals will not be expected to keep formula locked away (although they’re free to do so). She says they’re correcting the FAQs to reflect that. It seems like a rather a strange thing to get so diametrically incorrect, but removing the lock-and-key element of the Latch On NYC initiative does help things immeasurably.