MONDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer U.S. hospitals send
new mothers home with free infant formula, but the overwhelming
majority still engage in the practice, to the dismay of
breast-feeding proponents, a new survey finds.
To determine if the number of hospitals distributing
industry-provided formula had changed since her 2007 survey, Anne
Merewood of Boston University School of Medicine followed up in
2010 and found twice as many were not giving formula to new
"Things are getting better, but still not that great," said Merewood, an associate professor of pediatrics. "The hospital should not be used as a marketing tool by the formula company."
Formula freebies undermine efforts to encourage breast-feeding
and violates medical guidelines recommending that newborns be
breast-fed, she said.
In the 2007 survey of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., the
researchers found that only 14 percent of hospitals did not hand
out free formula to new moms. Three years later, they re-surveyed
1,239 hospitals in 20 states -- the 10 states with the best formula
distribution record in 2007 and the 10 states with the worst
record. They found that 28 percent were not handing out
The study is published online Sept. 26 and in the October print
issue of the journal
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive
breast-feeding for six months and continued breast-feeding for the
first year and after if desired.
Distributing the formula violates the World Health
Organization's international code regarding the marketing of
breast-milk substitutes, Merewood said. The code says the
substitute products should not be advertised or promoted to the
"Breast-feeding is not easy to begin with. It's a learning curve," said Leigh Anne O'Connor, a board-certified lactation consultant and spokesperson for the La Leche League, a breast-feeding advocacy group. Having formula in the house can sway a woman to give up quickly on breast-feeding, she said.
Calling the findings "a drop of progress," O'Connor said, "we
have a long way to go."
The International Formula Council, an industry group, issued a
statement Wednesday in response to the study. "This study did not
demonstrate any effect of infant formula sample packs on
breast-feeding rates, which have continued to increase over the
past decade," the statement said in part.
The council also said a 2009 survey it commissioned found 92
percent of mothers polled approved of hospitals giving away diaper
bags with formula samples.
MeadJohnson, makers of Infamil, said in a statement Wednesday
that restricting formula handouts hinders valuable communication
between mothers and doctors.
"Prohibiting or restricting health care professionals from providing formula samples and information limits communication with parents and interferes with health care professionals responsibility to help ensure the health and well being of their patients," the company said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, breast-feeding rates have increased in recent decades.
Whereas 60 percent of children born in 1993-1994 were ever
breast-fed, 77 percent of those born in 2005-2006 were breast-fed
at some point, CDC figures show. However, the rate of
breast-feeding at age 6 months didn't change from 1993 to 2004.
Merewood acknowledged that the study has limitations. The
researchers only interviewed hospital maternity departments. Other
departments could still give away formula, she said. So could
obstetrician offices. Also, some companies send formula samples
directly to women's homes, she said.
States making the most progress were those that had the best
record in 2007, she said. The 10 best-record states from 2007 were:
Washington, Minnesota, California, Vermont, Massachusetts,
Wisconsin, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island. The
percentage of hospitals in each state stopping free formula
increased from the first to the second survey.
Of the 10 states with the worst record in 2007, Texas improved
the most, Merewood said. Now, 15 percent of its hospitals don't
give away formula, compared to 1 percent in 2007. Others on the
2007 worst-record states list include Arkansas, Washington, D.C.,
Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West
Virginia and Iowa.
To learn more about breast-feeding, visit the
American Academy of Pediatrics.