As a new mom, you have probably been so inundated with the Breast Is Best campaign that you wouldn’t even blink an eye to hear that most hospitals no longer offer free baby formula. For many moms who support breastfeeding and all the benefits it has to offer, this seems like a step in the right direction. But a small policy change like this actually takes away a new mom’s right to choose.
What was once a common practice of sending a new mom home with a basketful of free baby formula is becoming obsolete in the U.S., reports CBS News. Government researchers say there has been a major decline in formula freebies from hospitals since most health organizations are working to promote breastfeeding over formula use.
A CDC study published online in Pediatrics on Monday revealed that while almost three-fourths of U.S. maternity wards gave away free baby formula in 2007, this number dropped to less than one-third in 2013. Free formula numbers vary by region, with hospitals in the South and Midwest being the most likely to give free baby formula away.
If you are anything like me, you had the benefits of breastfeeding crammed down your throat from the moment you got pregnant. I breastfed both of my sons for the recommended six months, plus a few months more, and I am still waiting on my medal.
Don’t get me wrong — I think breastfeeding both of my children was a good choice, and I’m glad I did it. But there’s the operative word right there: choice.
The fact that the Breast Is Best campaign has become so mainstream has a few unexpected side effects. Namely, information about formula is left by the wayside. Depending on which mom circle you hang in, the use of baby formula may even get you branded a “bad mom” or “child abuser.” At the very least, mixing up a bottle of baby formula at the park during a playdate could earn you an eyebrow raise from the judgy mom in your group. (What? Your boobs aren’t working today?)
The biggest problem I had in the formula versus breastfeeding debate was the extreme tilt in the balance. I thought when I decided to give my first son a bottle of formula as a supplement, along with all the sweet liquid gold breast milk I had painstakingly pumped, I had failed as a mother.
This guilt that comes from formula use is just wrong — and it comes from misinformation. Infant formula is not made of poison. Breastfeeding is a wonderful choice that should be encouraged, but moms also deserve to know that its super-amazing-wonderful-fantastic benefits have been exaggerated.
This new study bothers me for one specific reason: Hospitals should be an unbiased organization that provides any patient, including new mothers, the information they need to make an educated choice for themselves and their family. Taking free formula off the table creates a bias. Mothers who can’t breastfeed or — gasp — choose not to breastfeed are left out in the cold. Breast may be best for you and your family, but it is not always the best choice for everyone.