Despite Benefits of Breast-Feeding, Many Hospitals Still Distribute Formula

September 08, 2008 05:56 AM
by Emily Coakley
Hospitals may be changing a long-standing practice of giving new moms gifts sponsored by formula companies, in an effort to encourage breast-feeding.

‘Formula undermines breast-feeding’

Most hospitals give new mothers formula samples when they are discharged, but that tradition might be changing, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The study, reported by WebMD, asked nearly 1,300 hospitals about their practices.

Maternal health experts are concerned that women who get formula won’t breast-feed, which is best for infants.

“Formula sample packs have been shown to undermine breastfeeding, and their elimination from U.S. hospitals may help to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates nationally. The prevalence of sample pack distribution is disturbing and incongruous given extensive opposition, but encouraging trends suggest that the practice may be curtailed in the future,” researchers said, according to WebMD.

Another study published last month showed that 77 percent of new mothers start breast-feeding, but only 36 percent of new babies are breast-fed through six months, according to ScienceDaily. 

Some hospitals are making an extra effort to get women on the breast-feeding path.

Hospitals in California’s San Joaquin County are using a two-year, $150,000 grant to encourage breast-feeding. Representatives of each hospital meet monthly to share best practices, and they’ve hired someone to coordinate the hospitals’ efforts; the grant will also pay for more training.

Susan Pirie, of St. Joseph’s Medical Center, told The Record, “We’ve had a commitment from administration on down to become a Baby-Friendly Hospital. We will not be accepting free formula any longer. When a mother comes in and wants to breast-feed, we will give her 110 percent support.”

A ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital, according to the Record, is a World Health Organization designation for hospitals that have “committed to improve breast-feeding policy and training practices.” It’s a designation only 65 American hospitals have.

On the other side of the world, breast-feeding supporters are upset with the Australian government’s crackdown on using certain health funds for a nursing clinic. At a few hospitals, babies or mothers with lactation issues were being admitted for the day so staff could observe them, according to The Age. The hospitals, according to the government, aren’t supposed to fund “clinics with money earmarked for admissions.”

The policy may hurt breast-feeding needs, some say.

“There’s a strong view it will force some metro and regional breastfeeding services to close,” a hospital staffer told The Age. “Now we give breastfeeding support to anyone who comes to us.”

Opinion & Analysis: Attitudes should change

When Aaisha Qaasim was breast-feeding her two-month-old in a suburban Washington, D.C., mall, a woman said, “That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”

As an African-American woman, she said she’s “brushed off some pretty awful insults in my life,” but that one hurt.

Breast-feeding rates are lower than experts would like, and especially low for African-American babies. Qaasim thinks people’s attitudes are a major factor contributing to these poor statistics.

“Ironically, the criticism I faced while breastfeeding in public almost always came from other women,” she wrote on the site Women’s eNews. “When I would complain to friends or family about the ridicule or hostility I received, instead of feeling supported, I felt interrogated.”

Related Topic: Breast-feeding and beating cancer

A recent study shows that women who breast-feed their children are less likely to get a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. It’s the latest in a large body of research that touts the benefits of breast-feeding for mom and baby.

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