Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an initiative to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies. Nurses in city hospitals will give new parents mandatory talks on the benefits of breast milk, and departing mothers will no longer be provided with free samples of formula.
Some commentators, including New York Times Motherlode blogger K.J. Dell’Antonia, questioned whether this “nudge” could cross over into coercion. But even if a thick-necked guy from Brooklyn strongly suggests you forget about the formula, society provides numerous incentives to bottle feed once you get the baby home.
As we reported in March, a study of 1,313 American women who gave birth between 1980 and 1993 finds those who breastfed for six months or more suffered “more severe and more prolonged earnings losses” than mothers who breastfed for a shorter amount of time, or not at all.
If that wasn’t disincentive enough, a 2011 study found that mothers who breastfeed are widely viewed as less competent than otherwise identical females.
An Oxford University study, also released last year, found children who were breastfed do better in school. But if breastfeeding is to become the norm, it will require a shift not just in hospital practices, but in societal attitudes.