Breastfeeding Gestapo Moves to Ban Free Formula Samples from Hospitals

Illustration for article titled Breastfeeding Gestapo Moves to Ban Free Formula Samples from Hospitals

When you deliver a baby in a hospital you get a nice big swag bag of supplies to take home with you. Mine contained swaddle blankets, diapers, Vaseline, a baby brush, a nasal aspirator, giant maxi pads, mesh panties, nipples, and baby formula. But the consumer advocate group Public Citizen takes exception to the formula freebies. In a letter sent out to 2600 hospitals across the country they demand that healthcare facilities "immediately discontinue the distribution of commercial infant formula manufacturer discharge bags," claiming it undermines women's success at breastfeeding. What they failed to explain is why a woman's decision regarding her own tits is anyone's fucking business but her own.

While Public Citizen says that hospitals that include the formula samples in discharge bags are complicit in unethical corporate marketing of these products and cites studies that suggest a link between the free samples and mothers who are "less likely to breastfeed exclusively and more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations," the real issue is the organization's preference for exclusive breastfeeding. They say it's "best for babies, mothers and communities," and its bias against formula is borderline illogical, referring to it as a "potentially harmful product to new moms."

The hand-wringing in the letter is a little over-the-top:

Hospital promotion of infant formula through dissemination of these discharge bags contravenes this consensus, needlessly and inexcusably harming babies and families. Moreover, formula feeding imposes a significant burden on the nation's economy. Breastfeeding saves families and the economy countless dollars.


The same argument could be made about the free Pampers hospitals send home with new parents, which could be viewed as a medical endorsement for the brand. Cloth diapers are certainly cheaper and better for the environment, creating less of a carbon footprint. But no one is laying on the pressure for a ban on disposable diapers. Is it merely a coincidence that diapering is a matter of interest to both parents, regardless of gender, while the burdens of breastfeeding fall solely on the shoulders (or chests) of women? It's interesting to know that people aren't as concerned about regulating the kinds of parenting choices that could inconvenience men.

Public Citizen's letter goes on to say:

New mothers who at first experience difficulty breastfeeding are apt to choose to use free formula samples given to them in discharge bags instead of seeking out assistance with breastfeeding.

As far as I see it, these free samples don't undermine a women's abilities, but questioning the choices she makes regarding her body certainly does. How does this this differ from pro-life sentiments?

Look, we all know the health benefits of breast milk. Yes, breastfeeding should be promoted, but not at the expense of a woman's agency. And think about it: The worst-case scenario here is feeding your baby formula, which is chock full of vitamins and nutrients? While many doctors agree that it's not ideal, it's also not Pepsi. You know?


If a woman is going to breastfeed, she needs to be really invested in the idea, because it can be extremely difficult, painful, time-consuming, and exhausting in the beginning. And when I say "in the beginning" I mean like, five weeks, which was how long it took for my nipples to stop bleeding and for me to stop seeing stars every time my daughter latched on.

Even though I breastfed exclusively for the first six months, the miserable time I had with it makes me completely understand why someone wouldn't want to do it. For one thing, all the mother-child bonding studies aside, the pain associated with it could easily make one resent her newborn, and thus hinder the bonding experience. While exclusive breastfeeding (and "exclusive" makes the whole practice sound so much more chic than it actually is) might not be as problematic for other women, it still requires a lot of a mom, both physically and mentally. If anything were to dissuade a new mother from breastfeeding, it'd probably be the pain and fatigue, not a hospital sample of Similac. But, you know, either way: Her body, her choice. And well-meaning consumer advocate groups should maybe focus their efforts on causes that don't interfere with that.


Letter to Hospitals: Stop Allowing Infant Formula Companies to Distribute Formula Samples to New Moms [Public Citizen]

Image via Bigstock.

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Can I be honest? I'd be far more impressed if, instead of trying to take away a viable choice, they encouraged other companies who would make it easier for a woman to continue to nurse to offer more discounts and freebies. The formula market didn't just this way because of marketing - they saturate new moms with product. Free product. I mean, I came home from the hospital and a box with three cans of similac were sitting on my doorstep.

So why not encourage Medela, Hygeia, and Lanisoh to make it just as easy for women to nurse? Have a low income pump program so moms who can't afford to buy a great pump don't get frustrated with a shitty one and quit. Provide education on what women can expect and legally demand from their employer. Send the mom home with a freebie kit of breast pads and milk storage containers.

My hospital offered lactation consultants throughout the stay, and my son's pediatrician has two LCs on staff, so I had support available to me. But not every woman gets that. So maybe we concentrate more on the actual roadblocks to breastfeeding, and less on free samples of formula that a mother can choose or not choose to use?