Breast is best, but here's some free formula

Are hospital goody bags sending mixed messages?

Published March 1, 2007 8:33PM (EST)

The Kaiser Network tipped us off to a Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) about the increasing number of hospitals banning post-birth gift bags with free formula; studies have shown that women who receive these gift bags had lower breast-feeding rates than women who did not or who received breast pumps. There's legislation afoot in Texas, California and Massachusetts to ban the gift bags, but similar measures have failed to pass, so some are attempting to change hospital policy through a campaign called "Ban the Bags." Some hospitals like Kaiser and Brigham and Women's Hospital have already banned the formula bags.

A mountain out of a milk duct? Perhaps, but it's always seemed especially pernicious that hospitals give women leaving with their newborns goody bags of formula along with lectures about the importance of breast-feeding. At the moment when you're sleep deprived and vulnerable -- the perfect captive audience! -- they give you this bag loaded with crap including a ton of propaganda that promotes various formulas as the "next best" alternative.

I consider myself pretty immune to consumer crap, but after the births of both my daughters, I sat down and dutifully read through the hospital gift bags as if they contained important medical secrets. Part of me couldn't believe that a hospital would let companies take advantage of my patronage to push a bunch of nonmedical and even not terribly healthy products. In the end, it all went in the round file, but it's not surprising to me that free formula has a measurable effect on women's breast-feeding behavior. After all, if goody bags didn't work, why would companies distribute them?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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