Public Citizen has launched a new campaign to end the formula "gift bags" handed out at most U.S. hospitals - a practice which has been repeatedly shown to decrease breastfeeding rates.
For a good primer on this issue, see this podcast interview I did a few years ago with Dr. Alison Steube.
Public Citizen has begun a petition to the formula companies themselves. They describe the campaign:
Hospitals should stop including industry-provided samples of infant formula in new mothers’ discharge bags because the distribution is unethical and violates good public health policy, Public Citizen said in letters, co-signed by more than 100 other organizations, sent to more than 2,600 hospitals across the country. The letters are part of a new, nationwide Public Citizen campaign that is aimed at both hospitals and major formula makers.
Public Citizen also is launching an online petition calling on the three major formula makers – Abbott (maker of Similac), Mead Johnson (maker of Enfamil) and Nestle (maker of Gerber) – to stop marketing their products in healthcare facilities.
Hospital promotion of infant formula in discharge bags contravenes the consensus by all major healthcare provider organizations that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after a child is born is best for the health of both babies and mothers. Research convincingly shows that mothers who received infant formula samples are less likely to breastfeed exclusively and are more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations. Hospitals that distribute formula samples are in violation of a 1981 World Health Organization (WHO) code that prohibits healthcare facilities from marketing infant formula.
Yet, at least two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. distribute samples of infant formula, even if mothers have indicated that they plan to breastfeed. Succumbing to infant formula companies’ marketing techniques is costly, both in terms of money spent on formula and the health of mothers and children. Formula feeding costs between $800 and $2,800 per year. Additionally, the formula samples usually are brand-name products, which cost up to 66 percent more than store brands. Families typically continue to use the same expensive brand they receive in samples.
I recently wrote at Best for Babes that the tide is turning against this process. But ridding hospitals of this practice will require more pressure - something this campaign provides.