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Debate on Formula Samples for New Moms

Researchers Say Hospital 'Goody Bags' for Moms May Undermine Effort to Encourage Breastfeeding
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 2, 2008 -- Even though experts agree that breastfeeding is best for mother and child, the vast majority of American hospitals still send new moms home with goody bags that are financed by formula companies and include packets of formula.

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine contacted 1,295 hospitals in the eastern part of the country between 2006 and 2007. Ninety-four percent of the hospitals reported giving mothers sample formula packets at discharge.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, cites past research concluding that women who receive free formula samples are less likely to exclusively breastfeed their babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, but only 11% of U.S. babies are breastfed exclusively at the age of 6 months, the researchers write.

The long-held practice of giving mothers goody bags financed by formula companies, which also include things like water bottles for the moms and coupons for baby necessities, may be changing, according to the study. The percentage of hospitals that have curtailed the practice has risen since 1979. In some areas, there seems to be a particular effort to stop the practice. In New Hampshire for instance, only 70.4% of the hospitals reported giving out formula packs.

The researchers say that some hospital staffers are reluctant to stop the practice because they feel they are denying mothers a gift. Some hospitals have found alternative funding for take-home bags that don't include formula. Such funding methods include volunteer donations, funding from a public health institution, or money from a hospital's nursing and maternity budget.

"Formula sample packs have been shown to undermine breastfeeding, and their elimination from U.S. hospitals may help to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates nationally," the researchers write. "The prevalence of sample pack distribution is disturbing and incongruous given extensive opposition, but encouraging trends suggest that the practice may be curtailed in the future."

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