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Study Shows How Free Formula Affects Breastfeeding Rates

403px-breastfeeding_infantA new study of Canadian women reveals that new moms sent home from the hospital with free samples of formula are less likely to exclusively breastfeed.

The study found that almost 40% of Canadian women leave the hospital with formula samples. Women who don’t get the formula samples are 3.5 times more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding after 2 weeks.

That’s a big number.

A similar study of U.S. mothers in 2005 came up with similar results: first-time moms were 4.4 times more likely to exclusively breastfeed if they were not offered supplemental food for their babies. For experienced mothers, that number jumped to 8.8 times.

Why is it so hard for women to breastfeed exclusively after being offered formula?

Parentcentral.ca says:

“They give it to the women ‘just in case’,” she said. “But the real message is that you will probably fail… and one bottle leads to another.”

Women who are given formula instead of support for breastfeeding get the early message that breastfeeding is hard, and they probably won’t succeed. They’re subtly encouraged to rely on formula as an alternative.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months and continued breastfeeding for at least two years. UNICEF believes that improved breastfeeding rates could save the lives of 1.5 million babies a year.

Given the widely acknowledged health benefits of breastfeeding, why don’t our hospitals do more to encourage its success?

The crass answer would seem to be that there’s no money in it. Formula is pushed by big food companies, whose PR and lobbying budgets exceed that of breastfeeding advocacy groups. No money changes hands when a mother nurses a baby.

Behind that issue though lies the larger one of education and cultural expectation. Many hospital nurses know little about breastfeeding. Most hopistals employ a lactation consultant, but not every mom gets to see the LC. Additionally, moms and nurses both live in a culture that treats bottle-feeding as normal and breast-feeding as somehow controversial.

We expect to see babies taking a bottle, and many of us have lives that are geared towards bottle feeding. Few of us have a lot of experience watching other women breastfeed, or remember being breastfed ourselves. There’s a paradigm shift that has to happen if women are going to breastfeed at higher rates.

What about you? Did you get formula samples at the hospital when your child was born? Did you use them? Did they affect your choice – or your partner’s choice – to breastfeed?

Photo:Public Domain

More by Sierra Black:

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