Steve Chapman

But infant formula is not the moral equivalent of unfiltered Camels. Though scientists almost universally agree it's better for all sorts of reasons, the evidence is less overwhelming than you might think.

New York Times health columnist Jane Brody reports that "no randomized, controlled trials -- the gold standard of scientific research -- have proved that breast-fed babies fare better, at least in industrialized countries."

Correlation is not cause. Most NBA players are tall, but playing in the NBA does not increase height.

Women who nurse tend to be better educated and wealthier than those who don't. Women with the time and inclination to breastfeed may devote more attention to their kids' development. Factors like these could play a big role.

But all this hasn't stopped the breastfeeding campaign from acquiring a judgmental and punitive edge. I know one young mother who, when her baby needed more nutrition than she could personally supply, felt guilty buying formula. "It would have been less embarrassing to buy condoms," she told me. "I scanned it myself so the cashiers wouldn't know I'm a bad mother."

Breastfeeding zealots downplay the numerous factors that cause mothers to supplement breast milk with formula or to give up nursing altogether -- pain, inadequate lactation, job demands and illnesses requiring medications that infants should avoid.

Bloomberg can't know the unique circumstances and alternatives confronted by individual women. They can. They also have even more stake than he does in the health and well-being of their children. So he should grant great deference to their choices.

As a rule, it's a good idea for the government to stay off our backs. Fronts, too.

Steve Chapman

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

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