Under the new program, more than 50 percent of the city’s hospitals will request that new mothers listen to lectures regarding the benefits of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. Samples of formula will only be given out at a mother’s request or for medical purposes.
Mayor Bloomberg, at a recent public speech, said such health pushes are about doing what it takes to be healthy, and proof of success is seen in NYC’s average life expectancy, which is 3 years longer than many other parts of the country. According to the Mayor, he is not saying mothers can’t feed formula to their babies, but his latest initiative is meant to encourage mothers to do that which doctors feel is best for babies.
“Most public health officials around the country think this is a great idea,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall briefing. “The immunities that a mother has built up get passed on to the child, so the child is healthier.”
Critics feel government should not interfere with a mother’s choice, and that mothers opting to feed their babies with formula instead will feel unnecessary shame. However, Mayor Bloomberg insists the initiative is not about making mothers do something but rather suggesting and educating them on something doctors agree to be beneficial for both the baby and the new mom.
Doubts aside, there is little debate regarding the medical benefits of breastfeeding.
According to the Mayo Clinic, breastfeeding is “the optimal way to feed a newborn.” Most medical professionals recommend breastfeeding for the first six months, continued up until age 1 with the inclusion of solid foods.
Not only does breast milk contain the correct balance of nutrients for an infant, it helps build a child’s immune system through the transfer of antibodies. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states there is no complete substitute for breast milk—not even among formulas.
Some benefits of breastfeeding for babies include:
- A decreased risk of infant respiratory infections
- A decreased risk of diarrhea bouts
- A decreased risk of ear infections and reoccurring ear infections
- An increased survival rate in global communities: A formula-fed baby in Brazil, for example, is 14 times more likely to die than an infant being breast-fed.
- Decreased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Better immunity against allergens
- Fewer dental cavities later in life
- Decreased risk of childhood cancer
- Decreased risk for behavioral and psychological issues during childhood
- A decreased risk for heart disease later in life
The benefits of breastfeeding are not reserved just for infants, however. Mothers also benefit from the practice and see some immediate effects after birth. For example, breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps return the uterus to normal size after pregnancy.
The NRDC also points out breastfed children tend to be more resistant to disease early in life, are less likely to contract chronic diseases later in life; and mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis, breast cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Other benefits for mothers who breastfeed include:
- Increased weight-loss after birth
- Increased protection against becoming pregnant again soon after birth
- Improved health in women who are diabetics
- Reduced risk of female cancers
- Increased emotional bonding with the infant
- Bolstered psychological health: researchers have indicated there is no human bond stronger than that formed between a mother and a nursing infant.
With all the benefits of breastfeeding, many professionals in the medical world are supportive of Mayor Bloomberg’s latest healthy living proposal.
“In my work, I regularly see clients that tell me that they weren’t going to give bottles, but, you know, that can was there and it seemed like it would be easier, “ said to TIME lactation consultant Stephanie Rodriguez. “It’s a real problem that is keeping moms from attaining their own breastfeeding goals. It’s not the entire issue, but it certainly doesn’t help.”