The folks at Latch On NYC, apparently stung by the large and growing chorus of criticism, are backpedaling as fast as they can.
In my piece for TIME, Breastfeeding Wars: Why Locking Up Baby Formula Is A Bad Idea, I pointed out:
… Most mothers give a great deal of consideration to feeding methods before they have their children — their decisions are not based on their ability to access formula in the hospital. The most likely outcome of storing formula in locked cabinets is shame for mothers who ask for it, and extra, unnecessary work for nurses who have to retrieve it, monitor it and record it…
The plan to lock up infant formula has drawn particular ire and the folks at Latch On NYC are now denying that they ever planned to lock up formula.
Sometime yesterday, Latch On NYC added a page of “Myth and Facts” that, as the name indicates, purports to correct the “myths” being circulated by the critics of the initiative. As demonstrated by the webcache, this section did not exist as recently as 7:38 GMT. The addition is rather deceptive, since the policies that Latch On NYC is now denying are an integral part of its program, remain elsewhere on the website, and were publicly supported as recently as 3 days ago by an official of the program.
For example, the “Myths and Facts” page states:
Myth: The city is requiring hospitals to put formula under lock and key.
Fact: Hospitals are not being required to keep formula under lock and key under the City’s voluntary initiative. Formula will be fully available to any mother who chooses to feed her baby with formula. What the program does is encourage hospitals to end what had long been common practice: putting promotional formula in a mother’s room, or in a baby’s bassinet or in a go-bag – even for breastfeeding mothers who had not requested it.
Myth: Mothers who want formula will have to convince a nurse to sign it out by giving a medical reason.
Fact: Mothers can and always will be able to simply ask for formula and receive it free of charge in the hospital – no medical necessity required, no written consent required.
Yet these claims are directly contradicted by front page of the website as well as the initiative description, which claims that Latch On NYC will:
Limit access to infant formula by hospital staff
Moreover, Deborah Kaplan, Assistant Commissioner of the NYC Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, appearing with me in a video roundtable on HuffPo, explicitly acknowledged the restrictions. At 9:10 in the video, the host specifically asks Ms. Kaplan whether formula will be locked up (my transcription):
Host: Did I read somewhere that you will have to sign out formula? Perhaps I’m mistaken about that.
Kaplan: Yes, that is correct … and let me explain. I’m glad you asked that question. It’s important to clarify. We are … When a mother comes in and she has decided she wants to formula feed her baby, that is fine; that is her decision. She will not not be made to feel guilty and she will be given that formula. And in … the main change in that situation is that right now formula is available all over the floor where the baby and the mother is and, as some mothers have said, they want … they came in and they wanted to breastfeed and they had a small problem and right away one of the staff may have given her formula instead of providing her support and letting her try to really be successful…
In other words, formula will no longer be easily available, women will have to ask for it and nurses will have to retrieve it.
It appears that Latch On NYC is responding to the massive amount of criticism by disavowing its own words, although not by changing the actual program.
The entire controversy is an object lesson in what happens when a government organization allows itself to be captured by a special interest group. The idea of locking up formula in hospitals, forcing nurses to track it, forcing women to ask for it, and “educating” them when they do, is the ultimate lactivist dream come true.
There’s no evidence that these measures will improve breastfeeding rates, but that has never been a problem for lactivists. They are all about shaming women who do not make the same choices they do. It is deeply unfortunate that Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health allowed themselves to be emeshed in the politics of lactivism. They may be backpedaling as fast as they can, but they only look foolish as a result.