Booby Traps Series: Two out of three hospitals market formula to new moms, but the tide is turning

This is the 34th in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

The formula “gift bags” given out by hospitals in my area (until recently) were easy to spot.  I saw them at the mall, at new moms groups, and at breastfeeding clinics.

And it got me thinking:  Whoever came up with the idea of marketing infant formula through hospitals was one smart cookie.  Why?  Because it works.

How do I know it works?  Let’s just review the evidence from multiple studies, some of them randomized controlled trials (courtesy of Ban the Bags):

But, as smart as this idea was on the part of formula companies, I think that the tide is turning.  Some evidence of that:

– A recent study showed a decline in the distribution of the bags.  Time reported, “In 2007, just 14% of hospitals refused to give out formula samples. Three years later, researchers checked back in with the 10 states that had distributed the most and least samples and found that the percentage of hospitals declining to distribute freebies had doubled.”

- One state (Rhode Island) has gone entirely bag-free.  Okay it’s one of the smallest states by population, but the fact that this was heralded by the state with a press conference featuring the state’s First Lady and the Lieutenant Governor makes it significant nonetheless.

– Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, in collaboration with the US Breastfeeding Committee and numerous breastfeeding coalitions, has just launched a campaign to eliminate the formula company bags.  View their fact sheet here.

– More hospitals are becoming Baby Friendly (129 as of March 2012, up from 75 in May of 2009), and of course no Baby Friendly hospital can distribute formula bags (or take free formula, for that matter).  And the effort to increase this number will be getting a boost from the CDC.

- Kaiser Permanente recently announced that all of its hospitals will either become Baby Friendly (bag-free) or use the Joint Commission’s exclusive breastfeeding measure.  While they did not commit to becoming “bag free” at the non-Baby Friendly hospitals, there will be significant pressure to do so if they want exclusive breastfeeding rates to rise.  I already count 24 of their 29 maternity hospitals as formula bag free.

It wasn’t too many years ago that a formula company included this statement in an old sales manual:  “Never underestimate the importance of nurses. If they are sold and serviced properly, they can be strong allies. A nurse who supports Ross is like an extra salesperson.” Here’s hoping that the days of using our health care providers to market formula are numbered.

Want to know more about formula bags and breastfeeding?  Check out this podcast interview with Dr. Alison Steube.

Did you receive a formula “gift bag” from your hospital?  Did it have an impact on your breastfeeding experience?


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11 Comments | Last revised on 03/14/2012

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