Pulse: Bottle Report

When Fit Pregnancy magazine recently declared Philadelphia one of the country’s worst cities for breastfeeding — it finished 48th out of 50 and earned an F — Penny Soppas wasn’t surprised. Soppas, a Drexel Hill pediatrician and lactation consultant and area representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has been fighting to reverse our fondness for formula for 20 years. But she’s found that we’re — big shocker — resistant to change.

Research has shown breastfeeding might prevent cancer and diabetes in mothers and everything from ear infections to asthma in infants, but Philly moms don’t seem to care. According to the Fit Pregnancy report, only half of local mothers attempt breastfeeding, with less than a tenth continuing for the six months recommended by the AAP. Meanwhile, in places like Portland, Boston and Minneapolis, as many as 88 percent try, and up to a quarter stick with it. “There was a time, and it wasn’t so long ago, that you either breastfed, or your baby died,” notes Soppas. “But today, you have two generations of women who haven’t breastfed. New mothers haven’t seen anyone do it. It’s not the norm.”

Though race and ethnicity influence lactation decisions, Soppas puts most of the blame on the area’s “fossilized” medical institutions, which she says don’t prioritize breastfeeding. This reality is reflected in the fact that not a single Philadelphia hospital has earned UNICEF’s “Baby Friendly” title, awarded to hospitals and birthing centers with pro-­breastfeeding policies. Even a facility in Reading made the cut. “Everyone seems to agree that breast milk is best,” says Soppas. “But formula is everywhere; it’s a way of life. And the hospitals literally give it away upon discharge. And if you can’t convince the doctors, how do you convince their patients?”