Should Hospitals Stop Handing Out Free Formula?

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Should Hospitals Stop Handing Out Free Formula?

You’d be hard pressed to find a healthcare professional who doesn’t espouse the benefits of breastfeeding. Ironically, however, many of those proponents are the ones doling out coolers full of free formula when new moms leave the hospital.

That’s exactly what happened to Mary, a mom in Westbury, NY, who gave birth to daughter, Leah, this past February. Though she made it clear that she planned to breastfeed her baby, she didn’t receive much support or guidance from the nurses in the maternity ward. What she did get, however, was a free baby formula as a parting gift. “I just threw it in the closet, because by the time I left the hospital, I had figured out how to breastfeed,” says Mary. “But if Leah hadn’t learned to latch on pretty easily, I probably would have ended up using it.”

Is It Worth The Effort?
Unfortunately she’s not the only one. “Many moms have a weak moment and think, ‘I can’t deal with this!’ If they go home with a quart of formula it’s really easy to turn to it,” says Rochelle McLean, a lactation consultant in San Diego and owner of Babies in Bloom, a boutique and educational center for parents. “And sometimes that one bottle is all it takes [to derail breastfeeding.]”

Not to mention that breastfeeding is a huge, and often difficult, responsibility and new moms needs reassurance that they can do it. Which is hard to wrap your head around when you’re receiving free formula, says Gina Ciagne, a certified lactation counselor and Director of Breastfeeding and Consumer Relations at Lansinoh Laboratories. “If breastfeeding were the ideal, why would they be giving formula ‘just in case’ breastfeeding doesn’t work out?” she says.

According to health care professionals, breast milk is the best thing for baby (the exception being carefully selected prescription formulas that hospitals might provide for babies with special needs or mothers who can’t produce the necessary volume of milk). “It’s always sterile, the right temperature and is full of antibodies to help boost a baby’s immune system,” says Ciagne. Let’s not forget that it’s free – a big benefit considering a 2001 USDA study found that formula can cost a family upwards of $3,000 per year.

Creative Alternatives
Hospitals are now beginning to back up their breastfeeding message by offering an alternative to formula discharge bags. Cottonwood Kids, a company that dispenses gifts for birthing centers, has created the Healthy Baby Bounty Bag, a small cooler filled not with formula, but with a dozen product samples including disposable nursing pads, herbal teas, breast milk storage bags and over $100 worth of coupons good toward breastfeeding supplies (pumps, Soothies and Lanolin, for example).

“Lactation consultants have been waiting twenty years for these bags, but a lot of these companies don’t have the profit margin that formula companies have,” says Cottonwood Kids CEO Erik Maurer, who spent two years gathering resources for the concept. “But the bags aren’t around any one brand, so for a small amount of money, these companies [like Lansinoh, Traditional Medicinals, Seventh Generation] can reach lots of mothers.”

Maurer rolled out the product—and a Web site that offers breastfeeding support—in March, and so far more than 200 hospitals in thirty-five states have signed on, including Exeter Hospital in Exeter, NH. “We’ve received wonderful feedback from our moms,” says Michelle Savoie, director of the hospital’s Family Center. “Over 80 percent of our new moms breastfeed, and our lactation consultants are ecstatic to have the Healthy Baby Bounty Bags.” Mauer adds, “We’ve been getting emails from all over the world. We’re definitely in the right market.”

Written by Michelle Hainer for Tonic, the “good news site.