After Mayor Bloomberg’s latest proposal — a program called “Latch on NYC” that would ban free formula samples in participating hospitals and promote exclusive breast-feeding — new mothers are under even more pressure to breast-feed. But as critics point out, such “public health” campaigns take a very simplistic approach to the issue, which may fuel some unintended consequences.
In a recent article for The Daily Beast, Eliza Shapiro reports on a potentially dangerous trend gaining traction among new moms: the use of various medications to increase breast milk production.
The two most popular drugs used are Reglan, which is approved in the U.S. to alleviate gastrointestinal distress, and Domperidone, which is a non-FDA approved drug and is commonly acquired via Canadian online pharmacies. The pills are alleged to work by increasing levels of prolactin, a hormone responsible for breast milk production. And though most doctors agree there is scant evidence demonstrating the drugs actually work, many lactation consultants, blogs, and online chat rooms catering to new moms are still advising mothers to take them.
Even more troubling, aside from their general inefficacy, these drugs can pose serious health risks to women, including depression — a condition for which some new mothers are already at a higher risk.
“In addition to the mom, we must take into consideration what effects these drugs have on the infant,” cautions ACSH’s Dr. Ruth Kava. “Reglan, for example, can be passed to the infant through the mother’s breast milk.”
“The very idea is ironic to me” adds ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “New mothers are hyper-cautious about anything and everything they ingest for fear that it might in some way harm their babies. Yet they are willing to take unapproved drugs to increase their prolactin levels to breast-feed?”
In a recent article for The Atlantic, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon addresses the issue spot-on: “Breast-feeding has gone from being an ideal option for new mothers to a mandatory prerequisite for ‘good’ parenthood.” And in the Daily Beast article, an ob-gyn expert observes that the ideal of breast-feeding has morphed into an unhealthy obsession.
“The pressure on new mothers to breast-feed exclusively is driving them to take unapproved drugs, which is just appalling,” says Dr. Whelan. “The public needs to acknowledge that it is time for less judgmental messages about breast-feeding.”