No one questions the physical benefits of early breastfeeding. It helps the mom lose the baby weight and it helps the baby develop a strong immune system. Pediatricians recommend mothers do it for an infant’s first year, but only 16% of American mothers achieve that idealistic goal. Not all mothers, especially those who work outside of the home, have the luxury of breastfeeding. It requires great tenacity and stamina to unbutton your blouse and pump your engorged breasts three times a day in an office closet and then slip full bottles of milk into a refrigerator next to your coworkers’ tupperwared lunch. It’s uncomfortable for most everyone involved. And the national public debate over how long a mother should breastfeed (which means pumping for a working mom) will continue long after the media buzz over a provocative photo on the cover of Time fades.
Some advocates blame birthing hospitals for undermining the practice of breastfeeding by handing out free samples of formula (coupons and other practical freebies) to mothers in a convenient diaper/carryall bag. It contains only a few days’ worth of formula but the brand campaigns are ubiquitous. Every new mother is sent home with one. Of course there are few exceptions. Rhode Island became the first state to ban the giveaway (they needed the consent of its 7 birthing hospitals to do so). And the State of Massachusetts nearly banned “swag bags” in its hospitals at the end of 2005, but at the request of then governor Mitt Romney, the state’s Public Health Council reversed the decision. So as far as nursing is concerned, Romney said, in 2006, that women have the right to choose! Romney also takes credit for luring Bristol-Myers Squibb (the pharmaceutical company that retains a majority stake in Enfamil, the world’s leading supplier of baby formula) to build a massive facility in the State in 2006. Enfamil recorded $2.6 billion in sales in 2008.