Delaware Hospitals Ban Formula Gift Bags to New Moms

Image Source: Dresden Shumaker
Image Source: Dresden Shumaker

When it comes to feeding babies, I am always baffled there is a debate. Yes, I know there are people very adamant about breastfeeding. And yes, I know there are people who have strong feelings about formula. I could never stand up and chant, “breast is best!” when some of my best friends were doing just great feeding formula to their children who joined their family via adoption. So while some people may be “Team Breastfeeding” or “Team Formula,” I will always be “Team Feed the Baby.” It doesn’t need to be one side wins all.

According to the CDC, the rates of breastfeeding in the United States have been on a steady rise. Their data shows that in 2011, 79% of newborn infants started out breastfeeding. The numbers decline to 49% at the 6-month mark. While the national average is considered a good trend, some states have been monitoring downward slopes. Delaware is one of them.

Earlier this week the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services announced that “hospitals in Delaware will no longer give new moms gift bags that include milk formula when they are discharged.” The 2014 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card showed that only 34.4% of Delaware moms continued to breastfeed at 6 months. By no longer offering formula in gift bags, the state hopes to see a rise in these numbers.

Lisl Phelps, the chair of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Delaware, insists this change still gives moms a choice. “We’re not choosing for you; we’re not telling you that you can’t formula feed.” She believes when hospitals give out free items, it can be seen as an endorsement. “When hospitals give out free formula, there’s this implicit recommendation that formula’s the best, when, in fact, that’s not the case.”

Phelps also says hospitals will still have formula on hand; parents don’t need to start packing giant tubs in their hospital bags. She also explains that Delaware hospitals will act as a network of support to help new moms continue to try to breastfeed instead of giving up if there is a problem.

On the surface I can look at this news and see how the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services wants to be helpful to new moms by not pushing formula. But after sitting with the concept for a moment, it’s upsetting. There are two big things that worry me: how much choice is a mom truly getting here and how will this affect low-income families?

I was a low income-mom when I gave birth to my son just over six years ago. I had no idea if I was going to be able to breastfeed him, but because I was enrolled in the Women Infant Children (WIC) program while I was pregnant, I knew I would be able to get vouchers for formula if I needed to. I wanted to try to breastfeed, but I had also just been through five years of infertility. I wasn’t going to assume anything when it came to how my body would work or not work. While I was pregnant I went to a breastfeeding workshop to learn about the different holds and about different resources for help. I also did research on formula and knew which one I would buy if I needed to.

I was certain about one thing: my baby was going to be fed. It was going to be a combination of my body’s ability and my choice.

The hospital sent me home with a small box of newborn diapers, a T-shirt for my newborn from a local golf tournament, a massive bag of formula, and also coupons and free vouchers for formula. By this point I had discovered I was able to breastfeed, but I took the bag of formula anyway because I had a panic. “What if my milk went away?” or “What if he stopped nursing?!” I saw the formula as back up, peace of mind.

But what about the mom who hasn’t enrolled in WIC? Must she now go through that process before she can get help feeding her baby? What would she be sent home with? What extra steps will she need to go through now?

This decision is not unique to Delaware. The removal of formula from new mother gift bags has also happened in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. It’s been happening for years around the nation. While this shift seems to be the new trend in hospitals, it still feels like it prevents new moms from making a choice they might have assumed was available to them.

Getting support for breastfeeding is fantastic, but new moms aren’t always able to breastfeed or want to. By removing the parting gift of formula, is the hospital sending the message, “Breast is best” or are they saying, “Breast is all we will support”?

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