My Letter to Cari about Bloomberg and Infant Formula

Dear Cari:

We haven’t had a chance to sit down and catch up in a while, so you may or may not know that I recently became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I am really proud to be part of this profession, and it’s important to me to be there to support mothers in whatever way they feed their babies.

So what does all this have to do with you?  Well, in my role as an IBCLC, I have been asked how I feel about Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On Initiative. Since you don’t live in NYC, I will explain briefly: Basically, the Mayor has asked all NYC hospitals to lock up the formula and distribute it only upon a mother’s request. Further, breastfeeding mothers will no longer be sent home with promotional formula samples. There is varied reaction from folks here. Some believe that it is just one more example of Bloomberg’s over-reaching policies, while others applaud the encouragement of breastfeeding moms.   I am on the side of people who support this initiative, but only because there aren’t enough Caris to be on hand for every mother.

I remember a little more than four years ago, when my daughter was born. You raced in from Connecticut at the first signs of labor, and although you missed the birth, you didn’t leave my side for the next four days. There were many things you taught me during those early days of motherhood. You taught me that it was possible to get out and about with a newborn (and even see a movie!), you taught me how to use a sling so I could eat dinner while holding a baby, but most importantly, you gave me the confidence to trust my own instincts to care for my baby. The most striking example I can think of came about 36 hours after Hallie was born. She was jaundiced and my milk hadn’t “come in” yet. The nurses at the hospital kept telling me that the best way to solve the jaundice issue was to get fluid into the baby. I was distraught because my baby was only getting colostrum, and I didn’t think my breasts could possibly produce enough milk to feed my baby, let alone reduce her jaundice. A well meaning nurse came into my room and, without being asked, opened a bottle of formula and placed it on my bedside table. “For when breastfeeding doesn’t work,” she informed me gently.

I was crushed. In that moment, all of my fears and concerns were realized. My body couldn’t feed my baby, I needed this formula, breastfeeding wasn’t for me. But you were right there, sitting next to me on the bed. You saw the look of despair on my face and sprang into action. As the nurse left, you took the bottle of formula and threw it in the trash can. “Breastfeeding will work,” you told me. I protested that I didn’t know how to feed this baby, I cried that I was scared and just wanted to go home with my daughter. In that moment, you wrapped your arms around me and we just sat there with almost 20 years of friendship between us. “It will work,” you whispered into my ear. “I believe in you.”

At that second, everything changed. With that bottle of formula in the trash, we worked together and got Hallie to latch onto my breast. We celebrated a day later when my breasts swelled with milk and embraced when, without formula, Hallie’s jaundice was gone and we could go home. I went on to nurse Hallie for 15 months, when she self-weaned and then, without issue, I nursed my second child for more than two years.

Me and my baby with Cari

I fully support moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.  I believe that happy babies come from happy mothers, regardless of how the babies are fed. But as a mother who was and remains committed to breastfeeding, I support Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch On Initiative, because giving formula to mothers who don’t ask for it undermines their confidence. Promotional formula samples play into the insecurity that almost every new mother experiences. Until we figure out how to have a Cari present for every new mother in NYC, Latch On is the next best thing.

With love and thanks,

Sara Newman, JD, IBCLC, CLC

D is for Doula,  NYLCA, Vice President

What do you think?  If there was “a Cari” for every mother, would Bloomberg still have to lock up formula?

10 thoughts on “My Letter to Cari about Bloomberg and Infant Formula

  1. Sara, I loved your letter.

    We definitely need all the Caris we can get!! So much more empowering than “there there, dear, you probably can’t do it and it doesn’t really matter anyway”. It matters that women are empowered by empathy and understanding to build confidence that they can feed their babies well and enjoy their babies too. There are many ways that empathetic support can be customized for the unique circumstances of each individual mother and her baby or babies.

    So glad you joined the ranks of those who strive to provide that empathetic support.


    1. Everyone does need a Cari or someone like you. When I became a new mother, I had no idea how to nurse. I was fortunate to have a caring nurse, who patiently taught me what to do. I was so grateful. Nursing may not be everyone, but for those who want to nurse, support and encouragement should begin in the hospital.



  2. Sara,

    I am an attorney that has loved breastfeeding so much that I have looked into getting licensed as an IBCLC as well but it looked like I would have to take a lot of science pre reqs that I never took in college. What program did you go through? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


  3. Sara,

    That is such a touching letter. I am so glad that Cari was there during your moment of despair and gave you the support that you needed to carry on with the beautiful gift of breastfeeding. Every woman needs a friend, mother, doula, lactation consultant, nurse, etc…that will support, encourage, and reassure her that she CAN DO IT! It is a blessing to have women like y’all in the business of helping new moms.
    I wish we had the Latch On Initiative in TX!


  4. As a new Mom I was expecting the worst and hoping for the best when I had my son nine months ago. Almost all the Mom’s I know couldn’t breastfeed or gave up. I teared up reading this letter. I too totally support the Mom’s who don’t want to or can’t breastfeed as well. We need to support them on all levels, and I think you have hit the nail on the head with this. I was incredibly fortunate that my little guy latched on properly in the recovery room after his emergency c-cection delivery. We never had a problem, but I am still the only one I know who hasn’t had major issues even amongst all my new Mom friends. We do not get free samples in the hospital here in Vancouver, BC. I cannot comment on if there is undue pressure to breastfeed in the hospital, but if you are prepared to think you might not be able to breastfeed on your own and are then given formula to take home how can you not think that the medical professionals are thinking “Take this just in case you can’t” too?


  5. So beautiful!

    Our Doula was our Cari and if it hadn’t been for her, we wouldn’t be breastfeeding. First, when the public health nurses told us at 36 to give formula because our son had ‘almost’ lost a concerning amount of weight, she reminded us that we were in control of our baby. We didn’t need to take their advice if we didn’t want to. Then, a week later when my nipple pain was so bad I wanted to quit – and those same nurses had offered NO solutions except to unlatch and start again – she suggested it might be thrush. $3 of antifungal ointment later and everything was better.

    So yes, if every woman had a Cari, few women who set out to breastfeed would ever need that freebie formula.


  6. Sara,

    I’m with you in supporting the Mayor. It’s through the support and awareness of people like you and the Mayor that women actually have the information to make a real choice about breastfeeding. In my experience, it was friends and practitioners that reassured me and gave me the confidence to breastfeed two beautiful babes. The hospital in the first case of my son did not arm me with enough support or information and I felt that they did undermind my intention by leaving me alone to “figure it out”. In countries like the UK you are given, at no charge, experienced breastfeeding support. I count Mayor Bloomberg as humanitarian, a leader prioritizing the welfare of the smallest people in our great city.

    Thank you Sara for your words and for your commitment to mothers and babies.


  7. Sara, thank you for your story. As a mother of a nearly 10 year old, and doula, and Choices in Childbirth supporter, I applaud your story, and strength in sharing it. I myself agree with Bloomberg’s policy, and appreciate the conversation he has created by putting such policy in place. If only every mother had a Cari, a doula, or anyone else who believes so wholeheartedly in her power and strength. What every woman does have, luckily, is herself, a self she can trust to do everything perfectly, no matter what everyone else says.


  8. As Cari’s Mom and someone who has known you as long as Cari has, thank you for the beautiful tribute to my daughter and your wonderful words of wisdom for new moms. There were many fewer resources available when you two came into the world and I am so glad that you are both out there helping new mothers. I know I would have benefitted from that kind of support. I remember throwing out the sample formula and was lucky enough to have a supportive nurse and a baby who was an eager nurser. But I wonder what would have happened had it not been easy. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.


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