Survey Shows Big Drop in Free Baby Formula Giveaways

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By Maggie Fox

Good news for breastfeeding – a new study shows hospitals have slashed the practice of handing out free formula to new moms, a practice that advocates have long complained discourages breastfeeding.

In 2007, close to 73 percent of U.S. hospitals handed out the packs – familiar to just about anyone who gave birth in the 1990s and early 2000s. That fell by 41 percentage points to 31.6 percent in 2013, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

“In 2007, there was only one state (Rhode Island) in which more than 25 percent of hospitals distributed infant formula discharge packs to breastfeeding mothers, whereas in 2013 there were 24 such states and territories,” Dr. Jennifer Nelson and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life."

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Several states have tried to enact laws banning the free handouts, but the laws haven’t passed. But under pressure from the weight of evidence and lobbying, many hospitals have stopped giving away the packs, which usually come in the form of a diaper bag stuffed with formula, bottles and coupons.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life,” Nelson’s team wrote. “Despite this recommendation, only 19 percent of infants in the United States are being exclusively breastfed at six months.”

Babies who are breastfed for at least a year grow up to be significantly more intelligent as adults and they earn more money, too, according to at least one study. In the U.S. about half of new moms start out breastfeeding, surveys show.

Babies should get breast milk only until six months and should be breastfed until at least the age of one year and longer if possible, groups such as the AAP recommend. That’s because study after study shows breastfed babies are healthier, more intelligent, and bond better with their mothers.

Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer later in life.

It’s not easy – workplaces and public places often discourage breastfeeding, although this is starting to change as well. And it’s hard to get started. Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally to mothers or to their babies.

"Successful breastfeeding is hampered by distribution of infant formula discharge packs, which is a common practice in the United States.”

“Duration of breastfeeding depends on successful establishment of breastfeeding during the first days of a newborn’s life,” the researchers wrote. “Successful breastfeeding is hampered by distribution of infant formula discharge packs, which is a common practice in the United States.”

But it’s getting better, Nelson’s team found. “Many facilities are recognizing the importance of breastfeeding and are striving toward improving their maternity care practices to support breastfeeding,” they wrote.