My Letter to Cari about Bloomberg and Infant Formula

Dear Cari:

We haven’t had a chance to sit down and catch up in a while, so you may or may not know that I recently became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I am really proud to be part of this profession, and it’s important to me to be there to support mothers in whatever way they feed their babies.

So what does all this have to do with you?  Well, in my role as an IBCLC, I have been asked how I feel about Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On Initiative. Since you don’t live in NYC, I will explain briefly: Basically, the Mayor has asked all NYC hospitals to lock up the formula and distribute it only upon a mother’s request. Further, breastfeeding mothers will no longer be sent home with promotional formula samples. There is varied reaction from folks here. Some believe that it is just one more example of Bloomberg’s over-reaching policies, while others applaud the encouragement of breastfeeding moms.   I am on the side of people who support this initiative, but only because there aren’t enough Caris to be on hand for every mother.

I remember a little more than four years ago, when my daughter was born. You raced in from Connecticut at the first signs of labor, and although you missed the birth, you didn’t leave my side for the next four days. There were many things you taught me during those early days of motherhood. You taught me that it was possible to get out and about with a newborn (and even see a movie!), you taught me how to use a sling so I could eat dinner while holding a baby, but most importantly, you gave me the confidence to trust my own instincts to care for my baby. The most striking example I can think of came about 36 hours after Hallie was born. She was jaundiced and my milk hadn’t “come in” yet. The nurses at the hospital kept telling me that the best way to solve the jaundice issue was to get fluid into the baby. I was distraught because my baby was only getting colostrum, and I didn’t think my breasts could possibly produce enough milk to feed my baby, let alone reduce her jaundice. A well meaning nurse came into my room and, without being asked, opened a bottle of formula and placed it on my bedside table. “For when breastfeeding doesn’t work,” she informed me gently.

I was crushed. In that moment, all of my fears and concerns were realized. My body couldn’t feed my baby, I needed this formula, breastfeeding wasn’t for me. But you were right there, sitting next to me on the bed. You saw the look of despair on my face and sprang into action. As the nurse left, you took the bottle of formula and threw it in the trash can. “Breastfeeding will work,” you told me. I protested that I didn’t know how to feed this baby, I cried that I was scared and just wanted to go home with my daughter. In that moment, you wrapped your arms around me and we just sat there with almost 20 years of friendship between us. “It will work,” you whispered into my ear. “I believe in you.”

At that second, everything changed. With that bottle of formula in the trash, we worked together and got Hallie to latch onto my breast. We celebrated a day later when my breasts swelled with milk and embraced when, without formula, Hallie’s jaundice was gone and we could go home. I went on to nurse Hallie for 15 months, when she self-weaned and then, without issue, I nursed my second child for more than two years.

Me and my baby with Cari

I fully support moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.  I believe that happy babies come from happy mothers, regardless of how the babies are fed. But as a mother who was and remains committed to breastfeeding, I support Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On Initiative, because giving formula to mothers who don’t ask for it undermines their confidence. Promotional formula samples play into the insecurity that almost every new mother experiences. Until we figure out how to have a Cari present for every new mother in NYC, Latch On is the next best thing.

With love and thanks,

Sara Newman, JD, IBCLC, CLC

D is for Doula,  NYLCA, Vice President

What do you think?  If there was “a Cari” for every mother, would Bloomberg still have to lock up formula?

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10 Comments | Last revised on 08/19/2012

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