The New York Times said the USA was "embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers" and even threatened Ecuador and other countries with financial retaliation.
President Donald Trump weighed in Monday to defend women's "access" to formula milk, after an article accused the United States of seeking to torpedo a World Health Organization resolution on breastfeeding.
A Russian diplomat told the Times that his country's decision to advance the breastfeeding resolution was an easy one to make.
USA officials sought to remove language that called on governments to "protect, promote and support breastfeeding" as well as a separate section that called for governments to restrict the promotion of products that experts agree could cause harm to children.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement responding to the account of the resolution that the U.S. "has a long history of supporting mothers and breastfeeding around the world and is the largest bilateral donor of such foreign assistance programs".
"Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother's milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes", the report continued.
As we've seen in the debates over abortion or plastic surgery or pregnancy nutrition, everyone has an opinion about what women should and should not do with their bodies-even if they don't inhabit a female body themselves. The Infant Nutrition Council of America has supported this non-partisan position since 2016, working with both the Obama and Trump administrations.
"Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said it's "patently false" to portray the USA position as 'anti-breastfeeding'".
The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States. She attended the meeting, and said the resolution "was really just reaffirming policies that are already in place and calling on countries to implement them".
The American move was apparently an attempt to protect the interests of infant formula manufacturers.
"I don't think people thought about it very much", she said, "that... marketing could lead people to the extent... that you would actually have babies dying". The resolution was expected to pass easily, but USA delegates aimed to remove language that encouraged countries to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" in an alleged alignment with baby formula manufacturers.
The State Department official said the United States works "to identify common cause when possible and does not shy away from expressing its disagreement when necessary".
Health experts recommend breast milk as the exclusive food for babies in their first six months.
As part of global nutrition targets, countries who are part of the World Health Organization have vowed to increase rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to at least 50 percent of mothers by 2025.
"These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so", a spokesperson said in an email.