Friday, March 31, 2006

A Note about Breastfeeding and Hospitals

Baby Babble is running a piece on The Public Health Council in Massachusetts prohibiting hospitals from giving away infant formula and coupons to new parents. The ban was scheduled to go into affect in July, then Governor Mitt Romney requested a repeal of the ban, and nothing is settled or going to be settled for a while.

What's to reconsider? Well, I suppose the money companies like Nestle make, roughly $3000 per child per year. The US is currently 36th in infant mortality. That's not good. Romney supposedly said that the ban would limit choice for parents. That's total crap. The only choice he's afraid of limiting is that of formula companies to market heavily to a captive audience. Perhaps he'd like hospitals to branch out: how about Benson & Hedges gift bags in the cancer ward, Rollerblades (without helmets, natch) in the sports injury department...I'm sure someone out there has even better ideas.

This is not about parental choice. This is about social policy. Social policy that is at the mercy of big companies.

This is about how social policy in America sucks eggs.

Ever heard of something called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative? No, I didn't think so. That's because only 52 hospitals in America are certified Baby-Friendly. That puts the U.S. well behind Turkey (83) and way the hell behind Mexico (692). [These are absolute numbers provided by UNICEF, not rankings or rates.]

So, what kind of crazy stuff do hospitals have to do to be "Baby-Friendly"? Here's the complete list:

* Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.

* Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.

* Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.

* Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth.

* Show mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.

* Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically

* Practice rooming in - that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.

* Encourage breastfeeding on demand.

* Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to
breastfeeding infants.

* Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support
groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was begun in 1991. It is a follow-up to the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutions, from 1981. The US did not sign on to the Code, which forbids Breast-Milk Substitutions (how's that for reframing?) to be marketed to the public. No free samples, no doctor's offices and parenting magazines rife with glossy ads, no commercials on TV showing a woman with a six-month-old baby slurping from a bottle and a disclaimer that "breast is best" .

Mitt Romney has asked the Public Health Council in Massachusetts to reconsider. To spend some more time thinking about a policy WHO recommended 25 years ago. You know how many Baby-Friendly hospitals there are in Massachusetts? One. Admittedly, that's one more than NC.

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