Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fascism of the Mammaries

A brief disclaimer:
Ordinarily, I am a big proponent of breastfeeding. It is part of my game plan for the stewardship and care of future Autodidacts. But the idea of not having the option to do so on my own terms incenses me beyond belief.

Last week, New York City health officials announced that formula would no longer be given out for free in city hospitals. This effectively shackles women to their babies and to their homes, reversing years of women’s progress in the workplace. Not every woman has a job that is compatible with the demands that breastfeeding makes on a woman, both physically, emotionally and economically. And it is precisely the women whose jobs make it impossible to breastfeed who rely on free formula.

Furthermore, just because some women DO have jobs that might yield to the demands of breastfeeding does NOT make it okay for them to be forced to do so or judged for not doing so. And the ban sadly ignores situations in which the health and habits of the mother renders the “breast is best” maxim untrue, as in cases of babies born to mothers living with AIDS or various addictions.

I can already hear the choruses of dissent out there, waving the specter of the trans-fat ban and pointing out to democrats like myself that this is a prime example of reaping what one has sown. But it is not. The trans-fat ban was a crucial public-health measure. While the vast majority of diners are free to exercise personal choice as to what and from where they will consume, there is a large population in our city whose choice is usurped by the simple economies of putting food on the table. Why would someone making minimum wage favor a few paltry items of fresh produce when they could have an entire meal for a buck?

It is this latter group of people who are getting creamed by this latest “public health” initiative. Somehow, I don’t think it will make things any better to know that at least that cream is trans-fat-free.


mel said...

It is sooo very great to see that NYC officials have really made a commitment to tackle the problems that truly affect NYC. Breast feeding, trans-fats, certain choice words...I cannot even begin to imagine what they will think of next. If you didn't catch that sarcasm in my typing...well...Seriously people, we are paying these elected officials to sit around the table and brainstorm new ways to give already disenfrachished people more difficulty in day-to-day living. On a personal note, I was not breast fed, and I was malnourished even with the help of government issued formula. Adding the expense of formula on to an already maxed out budget is the last thing a new mother needs. I think that the NYC officials should think more about the health implications of their decisions especially considering that most of these kids won't have health insurance/coverage either. It could prove to be a butterfly effect in early childhood development in the working poor. It sounds to me like the officials are bored, maybe we could give them something to do...I have plenty of ideas.

The Pedant said...

It raises an interesting policy question. I have heard that the World Health Organization, in places that are not New York City, has stopped providing free formula for mothers of young infants because, for a number of reasons, doing so causes infant mortality, disease, and malnutrition to rise. Even in high-AIDS regions.

Now, I am not an epidemiologist, an actuary, or anyone else who can, at his fingertips, conjure up information about the relative sanitation and infant mortality rates of various social strata of New Yorkers. So I cannot tell you that I know that stopping the free distribution of baby formula will save baby lives in New York city.

However, according to WHO (and the European Common Market, which is also considering a ban), it's likely that it will save a few.

When I ask "how many infant lives outweigh the value of increased autonomy for their mothers," I don't mean it as an attack on your philosophy. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution allow large amounts of crime that a brutal police state could crush, but we consider the increase in murder, rape, and robbery the price we pay for freedom. I merely ask a clarification as I believe that, at some particular number of infant sicknesses or deaths, you might consider the loss of freedom by breastfeeding mothers warranted.

Aunt L. said...

My understanding is that what the hospitals have discontinued supplying is a small sample of formula, not enough to sustain a baby for more than a few days. So it's not like they are cutting off the supply of people who need to rely on formula -- for those folks, what the hospitals were supplying was a drop in the bucket. Rather, they are eliminating the tendency to try something, because it's there, for people who would otherwise breastfeed. And it's that trying something, in the early days of establishing breastfeeding, that can sabotage it for good, because breast milk supply increases upon demand and decreases if the baby sucks less because his/her hunger was satisfied from another source. And then, because the mother is not producing enough milk when the formula supply runs out, the baby cries because it's hungry because the mother isn't producing enough milk, so she buys formula to supplement, continuing the cycle. (I speak as someone who has breastfed four children.)

Duchess said...

Aunt L. raises an interesting distinction that I was not aware of. Pedant, thank you for your thoughtful response. As for your question about loss of freedom by breastfeeding mothers, I get very nervous any time anyone begins to discourse on a justified loss of freedom. Lots of people make lots of day-to-day childrearing decisions that may be less-than-salutory and while it is the duty of both the government and educated people such as ourselves to educate and facilitate the making of smarter decisions, legislating them is not a route upon which I think we should be embarking. Why can't hospitals just focus more on post-natal education? Or give extra food stamps to mothers who breastfeed? Actually, there's another interesting health issue: if a mother has limited resources for a healthy diet, relying on cheap processed and fast foods, is breastfeeding really better? Shouldn't the government put its money where these women's mouths are (sorry, I couldn't resist) and give added subsidies to facilitate the kind of diet that a breastfeeding mother would need?

Anonymous said...

The depth and breadth of your ignorance is just stunning. Do your homework!