Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ban the Bags (cont)

In the newest issue of Mothering magazine, an article added more information on the history of "Ban the Bags" a movement that would restrict hospitals, and infant formula makers from distributing free samples of formula to new mothers. The reason for this ban is because research has shown that women who are given free samples of formula are less likely to continue breastfeeding as long as recommended (2 years by the World Health Organization, and at least one year and longer by the American Academy of Pediatrics). Women use formula feed their babies spend on average $2,000 on formula in the first year, whereas breastfeeding is free. Obviously the formula companies have a financial incentive to get as many mothers as possible to breastfeed, and through hospital giving out free samples, "mothers will assume that the brand [of formula] is sanctioned by the health care provider and safe to use."

The sour note to the article was learning about the history of the Ban the Bags bill from the Massachusetts state legislature. It appears that former presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave into the temptation of letting special interests and money get in the way of promoting what is healthy for infants and mothers.

He then defended his actions by saying that not giving women formula when they left the hospital with their new babies interferes with a woman's "choice" to feed their baby in whatever way they view as appropriate. What an awful argument! A woman has the choice to go to the store and buy formula if she chooses to formula feed her baby. Nothing is stopping her! She's going to have to feed her baby, so if she's not using the milk produced by her breasts, then she needs to go to the store. Simple enough solution to protecting a woman's choice.

If Romney wants to argue that hospitals are not offering equal time to the various methods of infant feeding, then we can say that hospitals need to become objective when it comes to issues relating to infant feeding. If this were to happen, hospitals would not be allowed to advocate or assist mothers in establishing the breastfeeding relationship. Hospitals would either need to remain mum on the topic or provide information (but information, only!) on the benefits, disadvantages and risks of both breastfeeding and infant formula. In this way, mothers would be given knowledge and then the opportunity to make the choice for themselves.

Unfortunately (rather, fortunately), the public health arena realizes the risks to the overall health of our society that comes from not advocating breastfeeding. Research has shown that breastfeeding is the optimal way to feed infants, so much so that hospitals across the country are employing specially trained professionals known as Lactation Consultants who counsel women and often provide around the clock assistance to women who have questions and concerns with breastfeeding. Women, of course, have the freedom to choose to employ the LC's assistance or to go to formula. Not providing bags of formula doesn't interfere with choice: just with the finanical incentives of hospitals, formula manufactures and now we see, politician who are courting the big business constituency.

No comments: