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Free formula may discourage moms from breastfeeding exclusively

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Towards the end of my first pregnancy, it was common for me to come home and find my mailbox stuffed with parenting magazines, baby-centric coupons and tins of formula. (I obviously got on a pregnancy mailing list somehow.) I didn't think much about the give-aways, most of which went unused, until I saw a report (.pdf) from Toronto Public Health showing that free formula can have a real effect on a mom's feeding behavior.

Researchers there surveyed 1,500 first-time mothers, 93 percent of whom said they were planning to breastfeed their babies, and looked at factors that influenced whether the moms actually nursed when they brought home their newborns. Free formula was one such factor: the report shows that 39 percent of moms were sent home from the hospital with formula - and women who received samples were 3.5 times less likely to be breastfeeding exclusively after 2 weeks.

Why might free formula impact how a mom feeds her child? I think Sierra at StrollerDerby got it right when she said moms are being given the message that they might not succeed at breastfeeding and will likely need back-up. "They’re subtly encouraged to rely on formula as an alternative," she wrote.

Given that the World Health Organization and other health organizations (including Health Canada and the American Academy of Pediatrics) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months, the formula/breastfeeding connection is a cause for concern. David McKeown, MD, Toronto’s medical officer of health, thinks so, too, and is quoted in a Toronto Star article:

“A substantial proportion of hospitals are still doing this,” [he] said. “There are some incentives for hospitals to do this (promote formula)...and that is really not in the interest of infants and mothers.”

McKeown said hospitals should have a “comprehensive breastfeeding policy, help for mothers to initiate breastfeeding within a half-hour of birth, and ensure newborns are not given food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated.”

Photo by jeanine&preston

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