Last month, I had my first ultrasound. As I was leaving my gynecologist’s office, the nurse handed me a bag of freebies — mostly flyers and coupons for local baby businesses. Upon closer inspection, I was rather surprised that the bag itself was branded with a baby formula’s logo, and inside the bag were two samples of said formula.
The bag completely went against what the doctor and nurse were telling me — “Breast is best!” they had crooned. But when it came down to it, my doctor’s priorities were pretty obvious — money, money, money. “Pushing formula on a first trimester pregnant woman?!” I thought. “I need a new doctor.”
Turns out that my experience isn’t uncommon at all. One 2006 – 2007 study by the Journal of Human Lactation found that 91 percent of more than 3,000 American hospitals gave new moms gift bags with free formula. A smaller 2010 study found the number was closer to 72 percent, suggesting that the practice is diminishing.
Why are these gift bags such a big deal? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that “commercial marketing of infant feeding products has been shown to have a negative impact on breastfeeding,” pointing to several studies that show such gift bags with formula samples decrease the exclusivity and duration of exclusive breastfeeding. Even the mere act of handing out ‘educational materials’ prepared by formula companies reduces the odds a mother will exclusively breastfeed. According to BanTheBags.org, breastfeeding moms who receive formula samples are less likely to still be breastfeeding at one month (78 vs. 84 percent).
Following CDC recommendations, all seven birthing hospitals in Rhode Island recently banned the practice of giving new moms free formula. Of course, the hospitals will still give out formula to women who are struggling to breastfeed.
Most babies will drink formula at some point in their lives — whether it’s due to breastfeeding issues, the mother returning to work, or simply parental preference — and I’m certainly not implying that formula is terrible. But shouldn’t our hospitals simply be looking out for the best interest of their patients (whether that means breastfeeding or formula, given the mother and baby’s specific situation), not their bottom line? Gift bags strike me as commercial and cheap.
I know when I’m offered the bag during my hospital stay, I’ll say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”