Booby Traps Series: Please fill out our survey on formula “gift” bags!

Written by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC

This is the 51st in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Can you help us collect information about the distribution of formula “gift” bags?  Read on and answer our survey below!

A slow but steady trend is occurring in hospitals:  more and more are eliminating the distribution of formula “gift” bags, once a ritual of hospital discharge.

A 2011 study found that between 2007 and 2010 the number of hospitals going “bag free” in 20 states doubled.  Last month Massachusetts became the second (after Rhode Island) and largest state to go entirely bag free.

But as a 2010 study noted, “pediatric and obstetric offices serve as alternative, medically related distribution sources. It is possible that if distribution decreases in the hospital, the industry will increase marketing efforts in such alternative outlets.”  And as I’ve written before, even a single formula gift during pregnancy has a measurable effect on breastfeeding outcomes.

But this shift from hospital to prenatal and pediatric settings in fact happening?  Your comments on this blog suggest that it is, but so far there is no research to confirm the trend.  And as far as I can tell there is no research about the prevalence of formula bags in pediatric offices, or regarding the total number of bags mothers are offered from different providers in the course of one pregnancy and birth.

So I thought it would be a good use of this post to shed some light on the topic.

Please fill out the survey below (or use this link) to help us understand what’s happening.  Our hope is that your responses will lead to further investigation on this topic!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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39 Comments | Last revised on 08/23/2012

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39 Responses to Booby Traps Series: Please fill out our survey on formula “gift” bags!

  1. Alannah says:

    so I realize you’re collecting USA stats, but as Canadian culture is so closely related to and affected by American culture, I thought you might be interested to know that I was offered not one but THREE free Nestle formula-filled diaper bags: two at maternity clothing stores and one by mail after I came home from the hospital. I’m located in Alberta.

    • Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC says:

      Thanks, Alannah!

      That’s exactly the kind of information we’re looking for in the U.S. So interesting to hear about your experience in Canada! Thanks for sharing it.


  2. Becky says:

    Formula companies are giving breastfeeding bags, booklets, and storage bottles. This makes Moms think favorably about the company and remembering that name when tough times crop up.

  3. Jaimie says:

    I was offered a Medela breastfeeding package which included pump, bottles and softshells. The did however receive 2 cans of formula and one bottle from Similac in the mail before I gave birth.

  4. EF says:

    I know of moms who’ve gone into maternity stores (the big chain ones) to purchase nursing tops/tanks/bras. They’ve been asked if they want to sign up for “perks” programs — thinking the discounts and ‘gifts’ would be for store merchandise… and 3 weeks later… SURPRISE! Formula on the doorstep!

    I also know that big box retailers sell baby due dates and addresses off of shower registries in order to time for a formula delivery to the door. I rec’d mine at exactly 12 weeks postpartum… the week my maternity leave would have been up (had I had one).

    Dirty, unethical tricks.

  5. Crystal_B says:

    For one of the questions, I’m not sure I checked the right thing (I did make a comment about it on the survey, too). I did receive a formula gift bag as a part of my prenatal care — at the hospital “Lamaze” birth class I took. There didn’t seem to be a great option for that, so I clicked “at a prenatal clinic.” I hope that doesn’t mess things up too much. (FTR, I also got 2 boxes from a maternity clothing store and another bag from the hospital — I indicated those on the survey as well.)

  6. Kari says:

    I was never offered a formula gift bag at any of my doctor visits. I made very clear no matter the circumstance (baby having allergies, & acid reflux) I, no WE would get through it. It breaks my heart so many women are uninformed about breastfeeding, and how many pediatricians push formula on a mother who is trying to give her baby the BEST source of nutrition. Instead of giving out formula bags, they need to give pamphlets out including the websites that empower Mama’s and give them a “go-to place” when they’re feeling discouraged!

  7. Helene says:

    Not only were the bags offered but at my ob each trimester was another “gift” such as an organizer/diary from similac. Fortunately my doc had nursed her own kids so once I spoke up no more was given /offered and she was my biggest cheerleader besides hubby. We love ya Dr. Mullins!!

  8. Jessica says:

    I actually use the similac organizer as a diaper holder in our bedroom. The large pocket in the middle holds quite a few diapers and the smaller side pockets hold the travel cases for wipes. The strap goes over my headboard post and it’s overall really handy. I figure if they want to waste their money on me I’ll just keep throwing away the formula but that bag has been really handy!

    • Jennifer says:

      Yep, I used ours for hauling pump supplies/bottles during the 2 weeks we exclusively pumped, and enjoyed the irony in the process.

    • sarah says:

      I agree that the organizer I received at my OBs office is used in our house, and I did really like the planner I also received in a separate “gift”. I stashed the formula samples in my earthquake supply box, but I doubt even that kind of emergency would warrant me using it. At 8 months, BFing is still awesome and I have NO intentions of stopping, nor have I ever. I do love a goodie bag, though every one i received ALSO included packets on BFing from my doctor’s office, local hospital, and other local resources.

  9. Kerri says:

    I started to fill out the survey, but I didn’t receive bags with my most recent pregnancy. I received at least 2 bags from my OB while pregnant with my 1st in 2007. I switched to midwives for my 2011 birth. My husband signed up for the formula clubs thiis time, trying to get the free bags. No bags, but we got tons of formula in the mail. I used some of the formula with my first (I didn’t pump much before going back to work and didn’t pump enough during the day.) I found a system that worked (getting up 2x a night to pump) and only used about 15 ounces of formula. I didn’t touch any of the formula this time around.

  10. Erin monroe says:

    I didnt buy any new maternity clothes for this last baby and i didnt register anywhere. I did have the same experience as another mom in 2010 with baby #2… Motherhood’s “perks” sent formula and hi value coupons ($10 off!)
    With baby this year he was in nicu for a short while due to a traumatic birth and i got a free hand pump. 🙂 also a tube and valve set for madela.

  11. Katie says:

    My OB never offered formula gift bags – his APRN is a lactation consultant! The hospital where I delivered announced the week that I delivered (in 2010) that they’re working toward Baby Friendly designation, so they didn’t offer the bags either.

    I think the fine marketing people at a certain chain maternity clothing store sold my name and address to Enfamil and Similac because I started getting mailers from them around my due date, but no freebies, and when I never used the coupons they stopped coming. I suspect this because my mother purchased some nursing nightgowns from this store as a gift for me and SHE got marketing materials and a can of formula on her doorstep out of nowhere! I don’t know why she got the marketing swag and I only got coupons, but I didn’t mind not getting their “gift”.

    I had the gift bag and formula samples pushed on me at our breastfeeding friendly pediatrician’s office. It was very weird, in retrospect, especially since the doctors, APRNs, and RNs are 100% encouraging and supportive of even extended breastfeeding. Their medical assistants asked at every well baby visit and weight check if I wanted a can of formula, because the formula company reps bring them in by the case to hand out. I just said no thank you and that she was breastfed and inevitably the assistant said that was wonderful and noted it on the chart. The only exception was at the 2 week weight check where one assistant told me that I had to take the Similac “breastfeeding support” bag. I took it because I didn’t want to argue and was genuinely curious, but then had a good laugh at the useless and biased “support” materials. I donated the formula sample to a food pantry and used the cooler bag and ice packs to transport my pumped milk when I went back to work.

    • sarah says:

      Oh – I use my cooler bag all the time for pumped milk, too – I LOVE that bag. Similac was so kind to offer me such a helpful way to tote around pumped milk. Ahh, the irony.

  12. Rachael says:

    Just had a baby on Monday- and I was not offered formula by my ped, ob, or hospital (go Huron Valley Sinai!). I haven’t even gotten unsolicited formula in the mail yet. Honestly though- I have had 5 children at 2 different hospitals since 2003, and I was only offered formula with the first one.

  13. Courtney says:

    I live in canada and I was offered formula at the hospital and then there was formula sent to my house every single month for 4 months straight, then after that…coupons, from nestle and enfamil. I STILL receive ridiculous emails from them and it’s been 2 1/2 years! Their ploys were unsuccessful though, I’m still nursing my 2 1/2 year old son, with NO thanks to their harassment. 🙂

  14. Angela says:

    My first pregnancy/birth in 2009 I shopped at a maternity store. After signing up for one of their magzines/promotions, I received a number of formula samples. At the tour of the (military) hospial where I gave birth they told us that they have the free backpacks, to ak for one and toss the formula if we don’t want it. Pregnancy #2. Same state/hospital, didn’t go to maternity stores and didn’t get any formula samples in the mail. Plus, went on the same hospital tour at the same hospital, given by the same person, and no mention of the formula bags. Weren’t even mentioned when I gave birth.

  15. christine says:

    I received a formula kit from my ob plus one from the hospital. The hospital also sent me home with 24 ready formula bottle. I also received several cans from the formula companies in the mail.

    Recently my son has been having some spitting up issues. His pediatrician suggested i stop breast feeding and give my son formula with cereal in it to make him better.

    I donated all the formula and am searching for a new pediatrician.

  16. Jill says:

    After my son was born in 2008, I made it clear to the nurses that I wished to exclusively breast feed. Upon my discharge, the nurse loaded up the cart with formula. I said “no thank you”. She responded with “well, you’re no super woman! Just in case!”. I breasted him exclusively for 15 mos in spite of that mother/baby nurse with poor bedside manner! In 2011, I had my daughter. The nurses were wonderful and saw that I had breast feeding down to a science. BUT, upon my discharge, a random nurse came into my room and loaded up 3 different brands of formula and quickly walked out. I used the cute bags and diaper caddy,etc that they came in, but then donated the formula. This is in Illinois.

  17. Emma says:

    We were sent home from the hospital with a bunch of Similac swag. Bottles for milk storage, an insulated bag with freezer packs, disposable breast pads (which I used), a hand pump (which I’ve used a couple of times), and two six-packs of premixed formula. The insulated bag and bottles all say Similac/Enfamil on them.

    My son ended up not “getting” bottles, so most of that stuff just lives in a cupboard in the kitchen. The formula got donated. I do get coupons in the mail from Babies R Us every few weeks, but no samples.

    We were “strongly encouraged” to supplement in the hospital because my son was jaundiced, but other than that first day, he’s only had breastmilk. That was disappointing, since other wise I’d consider our stay “baby friendly”: rooming-in is standard, I had my son at the breast as soon as he was wiped down and weighed, and they had an IBCLC come by and show me a couple different nursing holds and how to pump.

    At pretty much every pediatrician appointment, our ped has said something like, “Well, if you feel like you’re not keeping up,” or, “if you need a break, blah blah formula blah,” which is annoying. I smile and nod and ignore it. It’s all the same network (Ohio State Medical Center), so the inconsistency has been somewhat disconcerting. My son is 10 months today and I have no plans on weaning any time soon.

    • sarah says:

      That is interesting… my son was slightly jaundiced and the doctors and nurses at my hospital told me to breastfeed him MORE often to help clear it up faster.

      I am in Northern CA and am very lucky in this respect, I found. While in the hospital, every nurse offered BFing advice and I had 2 different lactation specialists come to my room also. A nurse also taught me how to use the breast pump and sent me home with a kit of pump supplies and a hand pump. Be sure to ask about that!

  18. Lindsey says:

    I have been receiving free cans of formula via mail. This is my second baby and planned second home birth. I was really confused as to how they knew that I was pregnant and that my due date was approaching. I figured out it was from the “perks” from buying maternity clothes. If they can’t get us at the hospital they sOmehow find us another way. I’ve been donating my cans to people that need/use them.

    • Emily says:

      Yeah, I give the free formula and coupons that I receive to my WIC office, because that way I know they won’t be pushed on people trying to breastfeed, but that they can help someone if they really need it. My WIC office is SO supportive of BF moms 🙂

  19. Emily says:

    I took a birthing/’what to expect’ class at the hospital. At the end the presenter (a L&D nurse) gave us bags from Enfamil, telling us that she wasn’t supposed to, but that the Enfamil rep was a good friend of hers and gave her a bunch of stuff! This is at a hospital that is working toward baby-friendly status. Horrible that the formula companies are still sneaking it in 🙁

    • Laura says:

      I hope someone reported her. That’s incredible unethical, especially for a hospital working towards baby friendly status. I’m sure her supervisor would have LOVED to hear how she was peddling formula behind their backs and possibly jeopardizing their attempts to become baby friendly.

  20. Pam Hylton says:

    We donated some of the free formula to the local food bank, but I did take one can to the babysitters house just in case she ever runs out of milk while I’m at work. I think she’s used it a few times but only in an emergency. It was nice not to have to buy any for that purpose. However it was bad having it in the house because at my first month checkup the doc was concerned becuz my baby had only gained like 1 pound & her first and only suggestion was give her formula. I was so sad & scared after that appt, I came really close to using one of the samples, but when I started trying to red the directions on the can I just or a gut feeling that it was wrong, so I changed doctors & kept nursing. Our baby is 15.5 lbs at 5 months. She never needed formula! Good thing I had breastfeeding buddies to back me up.

  21. emilie says:

    to be entirely honest, I do not feel like the bags I received had any affect on my nursing success. I got them with both my children, I nursed both of them well past a year. the cooler bags and feeezer packs in them were awesome and I gave the formula to formula using friends
    I do however think there are several other areas with my first that could have been huge stumbling blocks if I did not have the support of my family… and the peer nursing support at WIC. the nursing staff gave contradicting advice. and my first pediatrician who sent me out of his office believing I was starving my child although he was 3 weeks early and small… I left and never went back. we nursed through it… now he is 6, healthy, smart, and stil thin, just like his father and younger brother =)

  22. Vashra Araeshkigal says:

    In the hospital, I began producing colostrum…and I was immediately told it was not enough and that my baby had to have “20ml” of milk at every feeding (every 2-3 hours). If I couldn’t produce or pump that out, then I needed to supplement with formula or “she could starve.”

    My baby never even made it down to losing the first 10% birth weight that most babies lose. I did what the doctors told me to do…I put her on my breasts for 15 minutes each then on top of that I gave her as much formula as she would take (usually about 20ml at first) then I pumped my breasts 15 minutes each side (usually getting nothing).

    I was *exhausted*. I *never* let myself or my baby sleep more than 2.5 hours — I would always wake her (they said 3 hours at the most..I think a couple times I waited 3 hours) EVERY. THREE. HOURS. and make her try to eat. Then I’d be losing sleep because you wake her up and then you go 15 minutes each breast then give her a bottle which takes her at least 15 minutes to drink then I had to use the pump. It was an undending cycle of sucking.

    I produced less and less milk and was more and more exhausted trying to adhere to their schedule. My milk dried up, I got depressed, and my baby ended up just on formula. Now she is obese…like most babies who get almost nothing but formula.

    Don’t let the doctors do this to other women. I didn’t know the truth. I didn’t know I could have fed my baby through the day about every 3 hours and then gone to SLEEP and gotten REST (she’d probably have cried and woken me up anyway) and that even if as many as five or six hours went by a couple of times the baby would NOT die (she might lose a little weight at first) but I’d be rested enough to not have stress and probably would have kept making milk.

    Teach the truth!

  23. Miranda B says:

    I was sent formula in the mail (Similac, Enfamil and Gerber/Nestle) plus because I wasnt producing enough milk, the nurses at the hospital insisted on giving my daughter formula when they took her to get her shots. I was then told I needed to give my daughter formula at every feeding right after she drained me. The hospital not only gave me a formula bag but also sent me with premade formula bottles and nonbreast friendly nipples. I went dry after 3 weeks and found out that the formula they gave my daughter (Enfamil) was tearing up her stomach and she wasnt digesting it. I ended up putting her on Gerber/Nestle Good Start. I tried to not give her the formula but she would drain me so fast that I had to unfortunately. She would literally drain me in about 2-3 minutes on each breast and still wanted more. In cases like mine, I am thankful for formula. However, I think the amount that the hospitals and doctors push toward us is ridiculous. I told them I was going to breastfeed and no matter how many times I told them when they asked, they still insisted on formula. We produce milk for a reason!

  24. Cyndi says:

    I just received a lot of coupons for formula along with diaper coupons and such. I think (but not strongly) that they are genuinly just trying to be helpful. We all have the same resources to educate ourselves on the best way to feed our babies and can take our own actions from there. I agree more breastfeeding pro’s should be displayed everywhere- because the formula vs breastfeeding ads are way out numbered. Like if they did breastfeeding benefits on buses, like they do with the cigarette ads of “4 hours after smoking…1-2-3, a b s” etc, then that would be really a good way to get out the message more obviously and ‘hip’ I guess. I know from my WIC class that a lot of women come from families where it’s just not in their agenda to breastfeed, like it’s a thing of the past and it will just consume your life. This issue should really be targeted in what little breastfeeding promotions there are. I breastfeed my 10 month old while working from home AND running a small business. Meanwhile my partner and I have a great relationship and a flourishing garden. All this sounds silly but it’s an example of how breastfeeding will not consume your life. This is the only reason why I bring that up. Finding that one battery for that one random toy your mother-in-law gave your son, however, will consume several months of your life.. I digress to keep interest. Bottom line is, if more women are choosing formula (assuming they have a choice and it’s not a medical or ‘other’ reason to choose formula over breastmilk) then there obviously should be more education about it. Every woman I know that sought education about the subject has chosen to breastfeed over using formual and some took great measures to make it happen, against all odds. It is the healthier choice. I try to be non-biased I don’t know. lol I appreciate other people in making their own decisions. Differences make the world go round. That’s why Taco Bell is still around, we all know it’s pony but whatever they still serve someone cause they’re still around. Thanks for reading! Have a great night =]

  25. Miranda B says:

    I might also add that my baby was born at 8lbs 6.4 oz and 19 3/4 in long. They were first concerned that she was a heavy baby. Then after she lost the weight and went down to 7lbs 13 oz after that first night, they started freaking out again. My daughter is a healthy 2 1/2 year old who is 2 ft 11 in tall and 30 lbs. She has long, beautiful hair (down to her butt already) and is doing great. I dont think that the doctors pushing me to use formula (basically forcing me to) was necessary. I produced colostrum in the hospital (and even before I actually had my daughter) I tried pumping and would only get an ounce out after an hour of pumping. My parents say its because I didnt force myself to eat more or drink more so I could produce the necessary milk. I was homeless for 6 months of my pregnancy (lost my job when I told my boss I was pregnant and then domino effect of that) Not to mention the abusive boyfriend. I couldnt eat a lot and had a hard time forcing myself to eat as much as “I was supposed too” or drink more than I usually did. Breastfeeding wasnt easy for me but I dont think my baby would have starved. I think she would have been fine but the formula I put her on (as opposed to the one the doctor put her on) was a saving grace for me (however, the price was not)

  26. Katie says:

    I was not offered any formula whatsoever at the hospital after delivery. I was offered lactation support many times, including on a Sunday, and I always said yes. I was disappointed to receive a formula gift bag from my OB yesterday at my postpartum visit. It also included breastmilk storage bags so I took it.

    I was happy that all the healthcare professionals in the hospital asked, “are you breastfeeding?” rather than “are you breastfeeding or formula feeding?”

  27. Jen H says:

    It would be interesting to ask moms how long they breastfed, in addition to these other questions. I got 3 sample kits-1 at hospital, 1 at pediatrician (we stopped going to see that dr) and the other was 2 cans sent to us in the mail. We also got a 2 pack of premeasured formula sleeves from enfamil. I passed along the formula to moms I knew who used it. I was breastfeeding and knew that was what I wanted to do. I was never tempted to give my son formula, even though breastfeeding was really difficult at first and it took us 6-8 weeks for me to finally be pain-free. What helped me most was the encouragement of other breastfeeding moms who were honest and said, expect the first month or two to be hard, but know it will get better.

  28. E says:

    I have never been offered a formula gift bag, but I got some in the mail during both pregnancies. I don’t know if it’s because we had immediately established ourselves as Bradley Method parents with very specific requests about interventions, and they just figured we wouldn’t appreciate it, or if the hospitals I used (2 different ones in the same city) just don’t give them out.

  29. Teresa says:

    With all the horror stories I’ve read, it makes me so grateful for my experiences. I positively love the hospital where I had all 4 of my girls. I was never offered formula in the hospital. Even when my first (10 years ago) took a LONG time to learn to latch (almost 4 days) and with my 3rd pregnancy (c-section with twins) my milk didn’t come in for a week. We used donated beast milk while at the hospital and it was suggested I buy some more for a few days for home. I had to ASK for formula at this point (which was reluctantly given, and could only be given after I had been seen by a certified lactation consultant) because better for my baby or not $4 an ounce for donated breast milk was out of the question! We are 100% breastfeeding now despite the early formula use.

    My OB’s office employs a lactation consultant that is available to moms and all of the OB’s really support breastfeeding. Not a single pediatrician I have had, has offered us formula, or even mentioned anything about the common misconception that you might not be able to produce enough for twins.

    I have to say the hospital as well is incredible as far as respecting mom’s wishes for the birth that she wants, the nurses are all very supportive. And with my first C-section only 4 months ago I was amazed at how family and bonding oriented it was (I had heard all the terrible stories of other hospitals) After the twins were born they left my side for only a moment while they were dried off, weighed, measured, apgar’ed, (and by my request the eye ointment was delayed) and then they set both babies on my chest, where they remained until I was fully sewn up and ready to move to recovery. In recovery I had an LC and another nurse help me establish a tandem feed right away. I couldn’t have hoped for a better experience, and it was such a relief to not have to fight for the birth experience that I wanted.

  30. Ashley Mortensen says:

    Ashley Mortensen found this very thing really annoying! I am assuming they got my information form the hospital I delivered at, before my son was even 1 week old I had been sent 2 whole cans of enfamil. Then around week 2 when I was so sore and nursing was über painful those cans were staring me down- practically saying “here just use formula…” plus it made me feel guilty for wasting it. I had to go find a place to donate it. Late we received 2 different envelops of the premeasured enfamil as well.

    I do have to give credit to my pediatrician, however, at my fist appointment they gave me a bog of 10-15 breast milk containers plus a few lansinoh samples!!!

    I agree with some of the earlier posts that I feel drs these days are to quick to tell a mom her baby isn’t getting enough _________ and that she should start supplementing with formula. I don’t know a single mother that didn’t start “suplementing” then end up on formula only within a month or two.

  31. Christy says:

    I had twins in April of 2011, I was determined to breast feed both of them for at least the first year. Throughout my entire pregnancy I was told by doctors nurses and family there was no way I was going to be able to do this. They were born at 37 weeks weighing 8 lbs 7 oz and 7 lbs 10 oz. At first everyone in the hospital was like oh my gosh they are the biggest twins ever. Being 37 weeks they were extremely sleepy and it was next to impossible to wake them to feed, we were stripping them down and putting ice o. Their backs and they still weren’t waking up. My smallest also was not very interested in nursing. I kept asking the nurses if I they were on and I got the same response everything is fine until at 2 am 36 hrs after birth when they had lost their 10% body weight all of a sudden it’s they need formula you aren’t producing enough. I said no bring me a pump and I’ll show you I am producing I pumped 90 ml confined from both sides. The doctor said she would be more comfortable at 150 ml so they have my light weight baby a bottle of formula will a fast flow nipple I mean the thing just drained but I didn’t know this until after it had been given to my baby. So of course I’m deviated because I think shes been starving. 15 minutes later she spit it all up but because of her knowing that she didn’t have to work for food she didn’t and I had to fight like hell to get a SNS to use at home with her. Two weeks later I was random busting my twins and at a year they were 24 lbs and 25 lbs. had I not been so stubborn their is no way I would have made it to a year of breast feeding while working full time. It can be done but their needs to be more awareness.

  32. Laura says:

    I actually have not received ANY formula samples and my daughter is almost 5 months. I don’t know how I slipped through the cracks, but I did. I do get email offers because I signed up for Motherhood Maternity perks program, and then there were some coupons in the gift bag I got from my baby registry, but I haven’t been on the receiving end of any physical samples.

    I also was not given any sort of gift bag at all from my hospital (breastfeeding or otherwise). I left the hospital with a really awesome insulated water bottle, and a free bathrobe (courtesy of delivering on the day of their 25th anniversay celebration). My OB never endorsed formula to me, neither did our pediatricians office, and they even referred me to an IBCLC. There was an incident on the 2nd day of my hospital stay where a nurse brough an amrful of formula into the room while I was pumping and she stashed it all in the bassinet, but I simply left it behind when they discharged me.

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