Breastfeeding is widely acclaimed as the healthiest feeding option for newborns and infants, with proven long-term health benefits for both the child and mother. Itís inexpensive. Itís relatively easy. Itís natural. Yet many women are opting for a formula-based diet, often due to a lack of information and support. For this reason, the governor recently signed into law legislation I supported creating the Breastfeeding Mothersí Bill of Rights.
The legislation Ė designed by a team of pediatricians, Women, Infant and Child (WIC) program personnel, New York City Department of Health staff, and lactation specialists Ė will be distributed in prenatal health care facilities, hospital maternity floors and post-delivery recovery rooms to encourage and promote the truth behind this beneficial practice.
The new law includes:
- (Before delivery) The right to commercial-free information on the nutritional, medical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding, as well as an explanation of the hurdles breastfeeding mothers may encounter and how to avoid or solve them.
- (In the hospital or birthing center) The motherís right for her baby to stay with her immediately after birth Ė for both vaginal and C-section deliveries Ė as well as the right to breastfeed immediately; to refuse bottle feeding or pacifiers; to be informed about and be allowed to refuse drugs that may dry up breast milk; and to receive help with breastfeeding.
- (Bringing the baby home) The right to refuse take-home formula samples or formula advertising packets; to access breastfeeding resources in the community; and to receive information on how to safely collect and store breast milk.
Another important aspect of the Breastfeeding Mothersí Bill of Rights is the right to breastfeed anywhere Ė public or private. While the legality of this isnít new, many mothers are still harassed or embarrassed. Theyíre forced to feed their infants in public bathroom stalls or leave an establishment because others feel uncomfortable. This isnít just a womanís right to breastfeed Ė itís the childís right to eat when he/she is hungry. To file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, visit www.dhr.state.ny.us/how_to_file_a_complaint.html or call 1-888-392-3644.
Itís important to support any new motherís decision to breastfeed. Infants receive the motherís antibodies through breast milk, warding off bacteria and viruses. Numerous studies have shown breast-fed infants are at a lower risk for ear and gastrointestinal infections, food allergies, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and obesity than formula-fed babies. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, breastfeeding reduces the motherís risk for ovarian and breast cancers, adult-onset diabetes and osteoporosis. On top of that, a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture study estimated that Ė due to fewer medical problems and hospital stays Ė at least $3.6 billion could be saved nationally if only 50 percent of mothers breastfed for at least six months.
I do believe formula is a valuable option for those unable to breastfeed, and itís important to note that many women arenít able to produce milk. But if the option is available, breastfeeding outweighs exclusively using formula. The Breastfeeding Mothersí Bill of Rights is a necessary step toward changing the publicís mindset about breastfeeding. Itís a motherís right. Itís a natural process. And this new law fully supports, encourages and applauds this healthy decision.