Breast is best in Massachusetts

Hospitals to stop sending new moms home with formula freebies.

Published December 21, 2005 4:47PM (EST)

This just in via Broadsheet reader Laura Roos. From today's Boston Herald:

"Got milk? If you're a new mother, you'd better. Because beginning soon, hospitals will no longer be allowed to give free infant formula to mothers taking new babies home. Regulators want to promote breast-feeding, even if it means making Massachusetts the first state to ban the popular freebie."

The regulations, put forth by the state Public Health Council, would end what appears to be standard practice: "Nearly every hospital in Massachusetts -- and across the country -- gives new mothers commercial formula gift bags provided by formula companies. It's often a diaper bag bearing the company logo and full of formula, formula literature, formula coupons and other items. In many cases, the hospital receives free formula from the companies on the condition that the hospitals give the companies' gift bags to all new moms. At some hospitals, the staff take out formula samples before giving the gift bags to mothers."

Breast-feeding advocates aren't happy. They say the goody bags are a "marketing trick" and that they "falsely imply that the hospital endorses formula feeding. They say studies have found that mothers who go home with the free formula bags are less likely to successfully breast feed -- even if the formula is taken out."

Our loyal reader says that's not what happened in her case. "For the record, the free formula bottles didn't derail my commitment to breastfeeding. I ended up giving the freebies to a girlfriend of mine who formula fed her newborn," she writes in an e-mail.

Beyond any matter of endorsement is the question of economics. A mom from one of Boston's poorer communities told the Herald that the free formula she received after her son's birth was "a big help." "Formula," she added, "is pretty expensive."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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