Massachusetts has joined Rhode Island in prohibiting maternity hospitals from distributing "gift bags" containing samples of infant formula to new mothers, in a move that proponents of breastfeeding applaud as sending the message that breastfeeding is the best, healthiest way to feed newborns. The state's 49 hospitals are banning the practice voluntarily, according to The Boston Globe:
"We applaud the effort of all of the hospitals to make this explicit statement of their support of breast-feeding here in the Commonwealth," said Dr. Lauren Smith, the public health department's medical director.
Back in 2005, Massachusetts tried to end the free formula practice with a statewide ban instituted by the Public Health Council, but that decision was overturned several months later when then-Governor Mitt Romney replaced council members who were in favor of the ban.
More than a dozen studies have shown that breast-feeding mothers who received free formula samples after they left the hospital were less likely to be breast-feeding by the time their infant was one month old. "Using formula without a medical reason is one of the biggest predictors of breast-feeding failure," said Dr. Melissa Bartick, chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition.
But infant formula makers responded that formula giveaways have been inappropriately blamed for women opting out of nursing because it's, for example, to difficult to maintain when they head back to work. "Some critics of formula samples claim research has 'consistently shown' that samples in discharge kits negatively affect duration of breastfeeding," the International Formula Council, an industry group, said in a statement. "In fact, the research results have not been consistent. Some studies show an effect, while others do not."
Image: Baby bottle, via Shutterstock.