Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Reply turned post: The nightmarish vision of a baby-friendly hospital

Feministe, along with a few other things I've seen around the interwebs, has a hand-wringing post about New York City encouraging hospitals to adopt baby-friendly practices such as limiting staff access to formula, not advertise formula, not give free formula samples, etc. Caperton at Feministe describes this state-controlled gulag:
Starting September 3, baby formula will be a controlled substance at some New York City hospitals. Under the health department’s voluntary Latch On NYC program, 27 hospitals are literally hiding the baby formula under lock and key, tucking it away in distant storerooms and locked dispensaries like legitimate medications that need to be tracked. Nurses will be expected to document a medical reason for every bottle a newborn receives, and mothers will get a breastfeeding lecture every time they ask for a bottle of formula.
Cue lots of upset in the comments about how babies will go hungry.

My first response:

So many of these comments are ridiculously overdramatizing an already overdramatized issue. “Babies will be forced to wait an hour for a bottle!” No. I work as an LC at a hospital with these policies so let’s clear some things up:
1) You don’t want to breastfeed, you don’t. You get your bottles on admission and that’s the end. The LC doesn’t see you unless you ask to be seen for some reason, like engorgement.
2) You want to breastfeed, you breastfeed. Nurses can’t sneak formula behind your back. Before we started documenting the mother’s consent, there was a lot of “she said/she said” after the night shift left. The nurse claimed the mom asked for a bottle, the mom claimed the nurse gave it without permission. Now if there’s a bottle, everything is documented and no one can say they didn’t know.
3) You need a bottle, the nurse or NA brings it to you. There’s no “queue” and no one is waiting for an hour. The formula is in the cabinet with all the other supplies. (That is totally staff-facing by the way – it’s not like the parents ever know it’s locked up. So is the Tylenol and that’s not shaming people with headaches.) We limit the amount of formula we give per feeding in part because people will give insanely inappropriate amounts. A newborn has a stomach made to hold about a third of an ounce at birth. I have seen people give over two ounces at one feeding!! It’s considered an accomplishment by grandma that she got the baby to eat so much, but it is not good for the baby.
4) If you are asking for formula for personal reasons, we document the reason. If the baby needs it for medical reasons, we document that too. Again, this is not to shame anybody or demand they give us a good excuse, it is to push the medical/nursing staff to acknowledge that “the baby cried some” is not a reason to tell the mother “you need to formula feed or your baby will starve”. (You think people don’t do that? You are wrong.) Medical reasons to supplement include excessive weight loss, jaundice associated with poor feeding, etc.
5) No one gets lectured. The consent they sign does say that giving bottles may interfere with their STATED plan to breastfeed. That is the truth, so I don’t think there’s a big problem with it. I work with a lot of moms who choose to formula feed for various reasons, usually because they believe they don’t have enough milk. I disagree, and I explain why I don’t think that there is a medical need for supplementation. I say that while there is no medical need, it is their baby and they can decide whatever they want. Some parents hear my explanation, feel reassured, and keep breastfeeding exclusively. Some decide they want to go ahead and supplement. Their baby, their choice. So much for the heavy-handed police state – sorry if real life disappoints. I feel like so many of these comments are like a Tea Party vision of Obamacare.


My second comment:

@Caperton: “On top of that, we have arguments of Nurses are good and supportive and helpful and so this policy won’t have negative side effects vs. Nurses sneak formula and bottle-feed your baby behind your back and don’t honor your wishes, so they need extra rules. Whether it’s either or both…” It is both, and also Nurses can be pushy jerks about both breast and formula feeding (and a million other topics as well “stop picking up the baby when it cries!”) They do need extra rules. These are some of the rules.

 “…Whether it’s either or both, we still have a policy that’s based on locking up baby formula and dispensing it bit by bit like feeding a baby bird, rather than on treating new mothers like adults: educating them about breastfeeding, letting them know that support is available, and then trusting them to make their own choice. And then honoring that choice.” But see this is where I don’t get it. How does the status quo honor people’s choices? We DO have breastfeeding moms getting the runaround and staff disrespecting them. This policy is meant to address that. In the meantime, everyone still gets what they want. This obsession about the locking up is still so puzzling to me. No mother could ever go and help herself to the formula cabinet. She always had to call the nurse to get formula brought to her. The lock is for the STAFF. And actually, feeding a baby human IS like feeding a baby bird (except for the worms part). They only need very small amounts. And they are OK if you bring them one meal at a time; they don’t know or care where the next meal is stored.

Finally, I am ALL FOR maternity leave. This is a HUGE and important component of breastfeeding support. And you better believe breastfeeding advocates know it and talk about it A LOT. It doesn’t mean that the hospital isn’t important too, and is a place where public health officials can actually make a concrete, immediate difference. People who are sabotaged in the hospital don’t ever make it to 2-3 months out as it is. I did some number-crunching for a WIC office and 50% of their moms who initiated breastfeeding stopped in the first two weeks. There is a huge drop-off after the much-vaunted 90% initiation, and that actually starts in the hospital for many people.


In response to continued upset about the locked formula: 

@Lauren: “That’s a staff education issue, not a mother education issue. It’s not resolvable by locking up baby food.” Again, locking up the formula is PART of what they are doing for staff. When you call for a bottle, do you know if the nurse has to deal with a lock or not? Nope. But she can’t be snagging bottles left and right for moms who don’t want them. Staff education is also part of that; it’s still just so puzzling to me that people are acting like the baby itself will have to open a bank vault to get fed.

Now this evening an update to the original post: 

*Update 8/1, 6:30 p.m. According to Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary in Mayor Bloomberg’s office, the information on the Latch On NYC site was wrong, and hospitals will not be expected to keep formula locked away (although they’re free to do so). She says they’re correcting the FAQs to reflect that. It seems like a rather a strange thing to get so diametrically incorrect, but removing the lock-and-key element of the Latch On NYC initiative does help things immeasurably.

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 ??? I do not get it. This is what our scary locked formula storage looks like. It's in the nursery.
You type your login, hit a few buttons, and open the door. FYI, the breast pump kits, nipple shields, etc. are in this too. It helps the people who restock track the par levels so they can keep any supplies from running out. No one is upset that because those things are locked up, they're discouraging breastfeeding.

Can anyone help me understand all the drama over the locked cabinet requirement, which once removed has "helped things immeasurably"? I'd say out of all the things commenters were concerned about (shaming, lecturing) it is the least relevant. Ask any of our patients who use formula whether we keep it behind a lock (besides the lock on the nursery door) and I guarantee not a single one will know. Is it just some kind of gut feeling?