Acton Institute Powerblog

The Nanny State Wants You To Breastfeed

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is beginning to take his self-appointed role as Nanny-in-Chief of New York a bit too literally:

Mayor Bloomberg is pushing hospitals to hide their baby formula behind locked doors so more new mothers will breast-feed.

Starting Sept. 3, the city will keep tabs on the number of bottles that participating hospitals stock and use — the most restrictive pro-breast-milk program in the nation.

Under the city Health Department’s voluntary Latch On NYC initiative, 27 of the city’s 40 hospitals have also agreed to give up swag bags sporting formula-company logos, toss out formula-branded tchotchkes like lanyards and mugs, and document a medical reason for every bottle that a newborn receives.


Under Latch On NYC, new mothers who want formula won’t be denied it, but hospitals will keep infant formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications. With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why she should offer the breast instead.

How many mothers decide to breastfeed their children because someone hid the baby formula? I suspect it’s around the same number as husbands who stop eating sweets because their wife hides the Oreos. Someone should tell Mayor Bloomberg (and my wife) that those sorts of change-the-behavior tactics aren’t all that effective.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Perhaps the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction in this case, but according to my wife (who is a birth worker) due to the high emotional vulnerability of this time in a woman’s life, handing her formula can be a significant blow to the self-confidence of some women with regards to breast-feeding. Policies have been so bad in the other direction, in fact, that after one birth she attended the mother specifically requested no formula but was not allowed to leave the hospital without it. Perhaps locking the formula away in an inconvenient closet is too far of a swing in the other direction, but since, developmentally speaking, breast milk is by far the best nourishment for babies (as well as having significant benefits for emotional bonding between mothers and babies), over-promoting it is an improvement to over-promoting formula, imo. In the end, of course, it would be best if neither the state nor formula companies would seek to encroach upon the autonomy of families to make their own decisions about such a sensitive subject.

  • MommaLisa

    I am glad there was formula available for my fourth daughter and my new son. I had almost no milk with my daughter because of thyroid problems. I stubbornly stuck to nursing because everyone was going overboard encouraging me to nurse. I finally saw the light when we ended back up in the hospital a week later with severe jaundice and very dry diapers and my doctor recommended that I supplement. I had a similar problem with my son even while on thyroid meds. It is not the place of government to push breast feeding. It’s a decision that must be made between a woman, her husband, and her doctor. That man is dangerous.

  • Certainly not THAT Kara Eagle

    On the other side of the nanny state coin, WIC buys about half (57 to
    68%) of all of the infant formula sold in the United States.

    Obviously, it isn’t Bloomberg’s place to mandate that hospitals cut off medical care to anyone,

    but that isn’t what is happening here. He’s simply encouraging hospitals
    to put the Oreos to the back of the cupboard as a non-coercive nod
    toward ummm… …hospitals promoting health. Who knows, it might
    motivate us to at least attempt baking the sweets ourselves rather than
    having government buy them for us?

    As a reassurance to the author, it is my experience that following
    through on the choice to breastfeed is still difficult (like parenting,
    actually), and formula isn’t going anywhere. In fact, before I went to the hospital to deliver my baby, I had
    enough freebie samples (from baby registries, doctor’s appointments, daycare tours, etc…) of newborn formula to feed my newborn for a