THE BRONX--Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx’s largest health care provider, announced this week that it is joining a Health Department campaign to increase the number of women who breastfeed by limiting the promotion of infant formula to patients.
In addition to Montefiore, North Central, Bronx-Lebanon and Lincoln hospitals have said they’ll also participate in the program, which was first announced in May. About 27 hospitals across the city have agreed to stop giving out free samples of infant formula, to ban formula advertisements and other promotional material from maternity departments, and to limit and track the amount of formula doled out to new moms.
“Montefiore has had a longstanding commitment to supporting breastfeeding, for not only the maternity patients but as an important public health component, in terms of caring for patients in the Bronx,” said Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of Montefiore’s neonatal division.
The city’s campaign cites myriad health benefits associated with breastfeeding. Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk for ear infections, pneumonia, and diarrhea, according to the Health Department, and are less likely to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes later on in life—chronic conditions that affect high numbers of residents in the Bronx.
Campbell said Montefiore stopped giving out promotional formula samples in 2009, on the belief that it encouraged women to unnecessarily supplement their breastfeeding with formula, increasing the likelihood that they may eventually stop breastfeeding altogether. The hospital said in a statement last week that they won’t be giving formula at all unless women specifically request it and have discussed their feeding concerns with hospital staff.
Many new moms mistakenly assume that their breast milk is not enough to nourish their baby, Campbell said, or that many normal infant behaviors—a baby falling asleep while nursing, for example, or only eating in small amounts—means there’s something wrong.
“A lot of times, the first reaction from the family or the mom is ‘Give me a bottle,’” Campbell said.
Part of the hospital’s outreach tactic is to work with moms early on in their pregnancy as possible, to dispel some of the myths around breastfeeding.
Bronx resident Cheyenne Rotondo said she decided to breastfeed her 6-month-old daughter after being told its benefits by the staff at Montefiore’s Einstein campus, where she gave birth.
“They told me she’d be healthier,” the 18-year-old new mom said.
Campbell says the Bronx presents a unique challenge for health professionals because women of color and immigrant women—many of whom reside in the borough—are statistically less likely to breastfeed than white women.
Nicole Nunez, 23, visiting the Bronx recently from New Jersey, said she wishes she’d had more information about breastfeeding when making a decision about her 5 year old and 14-month-old.
“I didn’t get much help at all,” she said, adding that she fed her older child formula, but switched to breast milk for her youngest. “I think the hospitals should offer training. I really didn’t know anything. I relied on other moms to help me out.”
Since this spring, the Health Department has been promoting the "Latch On" campaign with subway ads and posters in hospitals. The program has been criticized by some as limiting a new mom's choices pressuring women into breastfeeding, through the Health Department says formula will still be fully available to any patients who opt for it.
"Every hospital does have formula as an option," Campbell said, adding that she thinks some of the negativity surrounding the city's campaign is related to other unpopular health policy changes, like Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on large-sized sodas.
"That's really not what this is about," she said.