Hospitals will de-emphasize the practice of feeding formula to infants under policy proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- With a city pro-breastfeeding initiative being rolled out in September, some fear that formula will be the next soda -- something Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban.
But staff at both of Staten Island's hospitals say that simply isn't the case.
"The goal of this whole initiative is not to force anyone to breastfeed," said Lisa Paladino, breastfeeding initiative coordinator at Staten Island University Hospital. "It's to help those women who have already decided to breastfeed, because the hospital, in the past, has put a lot of obstacles in way to breastfeeding. And we're trying to get past those obstacles."
Both Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center will take part in "Latch On NYC," a voluntary city breastfeeding initiative.
And both hospitals said any mother who requests formula will still be given it -- but she'll also be given information on breastfeeding.
"We want to provide moms with all of the education that's out there about the benefits that breastfeeding has for both mother and baby," said Kathleen DiMauro, assistant vice president for women and children's services at RUMC.
Starting Sept. 3, the Island hospitals and 25 others citywide will begin rolling out the initiative, which voluntarily asks hospitals to support a mother's choice to breastfeed, and to limit the promotion of infant formula, which the city's Health Department says can interfere with that decision.
The initiative asks hospitals to enforce New York state hospital regulations not to supplement infants who are already breastfeeding with formula, unless it's medically needed. But a mother can request the formula, according to the hospitals and the Health Department.
Formula will be kept in restricted areas, so it's less easy for hospital staff to grab it and give it to a baby whose mother has previously expressed a wish to breastfeed instead of bottle-feed. Hospitals will also track infant formula distribution, and share that data with the Health Department.
And hospitals in the program can no longer accept free formula from companies, or give out gift bags that include formula or formula logos -- something that Ms. DiMauro said can undermine a woman's resolve to breastfeed.
"Formula and formula advertising and merchandising and things like that have kind of infiltrated the hospital, and that promotes a negative view of breastfeeding," she said. "We're kind of giving her a subliminal message: If the breastfeeding doesn't work, you always have this."
Ms. Paladino agreed, and said the initiative seeks to educate hospital staff, patients and the community about breastfeeding. In the past, some educational materials on breastfeeding were printed by formula companies, complete with their logos.
"Everybody needs to be educated, because for so long the only education that anyone received is from the people who sell the formula," Ms. Paladino said.
The initiative's requirement to lock up formula, rather than keep it easily accessible in labor and delivery units, is what has garnered many of the headlines. But Ms. Paladino said that's only part of it.
"The locking of the formula and needing to ask for formula is for breastfeeding mothers who said they wanted to breastfeed," she explained.
In the past, some mothers who wanted to breastfeed exclusively were dismayed to find a nurse or aide had fed their crying infant a bottle, both Ms. Paladino and Ms. DiMauro said.
"That can't happen -- that's what going to definitely be a positive piece of this. They won't be able to go and just give the baby a bottle," Ms. DiMauro said. "The bottle of formula can only be given to a mom if she requests it or if the physician recommends it."
Ms. Paladino said making formula less easy to access will help those mothers who want to breastfeed stick to it.
"At least 80 percent of our moms come in saying they want to breastfeed and only 20 percent of them leave breastfeeding alone," Ms. Paladino said. "We need to do more, and part of what we need to do is not make formula as readily available as it has been."
Sometimes, mothers who are struggling will say, "Maybe I should just give the baby a bottle," Ms. Paladino said.
Under the new initiative, "Instead of just bringing out the bottle, the nurse would say, 'Well, what can I do to help you? Because if your goal is to breastfeed, we want to help you breastfeed.'"
If that fails, they can call on someone with more breastfeeding experience.
"And then if that fails, the bottle is there, of course," she said.
In the case of mothers who do request formula, hospitals will provide it one bottle at a time and keep track of it for the Health Department.
More than restricting formula, the program is about education, both women said. Ms. DiMauro said that includes increased support for breastfeeding moms from certified lactation consultants and RUMC's on-site breastfeeding resource center, and post-discharge phone calls and visits to follow up with breastfeeding mothers.
Ms. Paladino said Staten Island University Hospital has been working on breastfeeding initiatives since 2007, and has been training nurses, holding lectures, and reaching out to the community through things like support groups. The hospital also has a skin-to-skin policy, since research has shown skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after birth helps the two bond and makes breastfeeding easier.