Analysis: The Battle Over Breastfeeding

A look at both sides of the formula versus breast feeding debate

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Aug 1, 2012  |  Updated 6:16 PM EDT
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Analysis: The Battle Over Breastfeeding

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There were 124,791 babies born in New York City from 2009 to 2010. And public health officials, doctors, nurses and parents are engaged in a major battle over how to feed them -- with breast milk or formula.

Mayor Bloomberg has entered the fray. He wants hospitals to lock up their supplies of baby formula, thus pushing new mothers to breastfeed. It’s an action very much in keeping with the mayor’s aggressive strategies on other public health issues like smoking and sugary beverages. He has fought to restrict both the use of cigarettes and sugary drinks.

His critics have denounced Bloomberg for running a “nanny” government. Certainly the breast milk advocacy seems to represent that kind of governance. Does a woman have a God-given right to breastfeed her baby if she is able to? Some women seem to think so. Others think that formula feeding is just as good and should be protected.

One mother was bitter, Heather, a blogger found on the website circleofmoms.com, said that, while it may be best for the baby to breastfeed, if you choose to formula feed “then that is your choice.”    She said: “I switched my son to formula. And he is growing just as good as he was before.”

Heather resents the fact that “if anyone mentions formula feeding than there’s a bunch of other women ganging up on them making them feel inferior.”

But, a medical authority, Dr. Nancy Krebs, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told me that “we didn’t get here over these many centuries by using formula to feed infants.

“Unequivocally human infants were meant to be fed by human mothers. The effects of not breast feeding could be profound. In the 21st Century, life style may bring other choices. But we didn’t get here any other way and substituting formula for breast feeding is not necessarily borne out by the experience of many, many generations.”

New York City’s Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, agrees. He says that formula-fed babies are more than three times as likely to be hospitalized with a respiratory infection than breastfed babies. And formula-fed babies are more likely to develop asthma. “That’s because, unlike formula, human breast milk is designed by nature specifically for human babies.”

The controversy over breast feeding versus formula feeding has caused a bit of an uproar with mothers on Circleofmoms.com. One woman, Crissy, says: “I wanted to breastfeed with all my heart but my son had difficulty latching on. My doctor told me to stick it out while supplementing my milk. But my milk didn’t come in for a week and a half, which made it worse….he still didn’t gain weight. It DESTROYED ME to have to quit trying but the important thing is he eats whether it comes from a can or my boob.”

Sharon says: “Honestly, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business how you feed your child, just as long as you feed it!”

Renee: “I know that breast is best and I’m jealous of the mothers who can breast feed. I couldn’t and felt that I had failed as a mother…”

Kathy: “I just wish women could stop berating one another for being different. In my lifetime I have been inspired by women who stayed home with their children, by women who dedicated their lives to careers…… by women who burned their bras and some who couldn’t say the word bra without blushing. I also have dear friends who are raving liberals and more who are ranting conservatives. Each of us is different and we need to embrace that instead of feeling threatened by it.”

It would seem that we need to stop the feuding and fighting, understand our differences, and embrace each other with a fullness of sympathy and compassion. 

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