Steve Chapman
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cares a whole, whole lot about what you drink. First he acted to take away your 32-ounce Big Gulp. But be aware you don't have complete latitude among non-sugary beverages. He also wants to take away your baby formula.

The old axiom says conservatives want to keep the government out of your wallet and liberals want to keep it out of your bedroom. On the latter point, Bloomberg begs to differ.

As long as you're having sex, he'll respect your privacy. If that sex produces a baby, it's a different story.

Bloomberg enthusiastically favors breastfeeding infants. But he is not content to simply express his view for your consideration. He wants to use the power of government to induce conformity to his preference.

The city health department has already mounted a campaign to promote nursing with the slogan, "Breast milk is best for your baby," displayed on posters in subways and hospitals. Gentle persuasion, however, has not gotten the unanimous compliance that Bloomberg desires. So starting next month, all public hospitals in New York City will enforce rules to deter any mother who would think of contaminating her newborn with canned liquids.

If you want to use infant formula in the hospital, you will have to ask a nurse for it. The nurse will be required to deliver a grim lecture on why you are making a mistake. If you persist, the formula will be taken from its locked location, but the staff will have to sign it out, keep records on its distribution and forward the information to the health department. It may be easier to get marijuana.

In other hospitals in other cities, parents who are checking out get free bags, provided by formula companies, containing formula and other items of possible use to parents. That won't be allowed in the 27 New York hospitals operating under the Bloomberg rules. You want formula? Go buy it, somewhere else, if you dare.

This approach brings to mind the old totalitarian rule: Everything not forbidden is compulsory. If breastfeeding is good, why shouldn't everyone do it? And if some choose not to do it, why respect their choices? Bloomberg and the groups endorsing his policy are determined to get their way no matter what the desires of those who do the actual childbearing and child feeding.

Their motives are doubtless sincere. A raft of research indicates that breastfed children have higher IQs, fewer illnesses and less susceptibility to obesity than those who were deprived. The American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, urges nursing exclusively for a full six months.

Some advocates therefore regard infant formula as a public health menace. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has proposed mandatory warning labels on formula containers.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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