According to a report from Toronto Public Health, almost 40 percent of new mothers leave the hospital with free infant formula samples. The women who do not receive the formula are 3.5 times more likely to still be exclusively breastfeeding at a two week checkup.
The study was conducted in 2007 and 2008 and released this week. It surveyed 1,500 first time mothers about whether or not they received formula from the hospital and whether or not they were exclusively breastfeeding their infants. The survey found that 39 percent of the new mothers were given formula at discharge, and this free formula may have been the cause for many to stop breastfeeding.
Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, says that while hospitals should have comprehensive breastfeeding policies for helping mothers, many fold to the incentives given for offering formula. The Breastfeeding Committee for Canada says there has been aggressive formula marketing to hospitals since the 1940s.
Few hospitals turn away the infant formula contracts and the lucrative incentives that come along with them. The Toronto East General Hospital is the only hospital in Toronto considered to be a Baby Friendly hospita by the World Health Organization standards. To be called Baby Friendly by the WHO, the hospital must abide by the WHO’s International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes. This means no free or low cost infant formula allowed.
Linda Young, director of maternal newborn and child health at Toronto East General Hospital says the free samples of infant formula are causing breastfeeding problems. “They give it to the women ‘just in case’. But the real message is that you will probably fail… and one bottle leads to another,” says Young.
Though the International Formula Council, which represents formula makers and marketers, claims that the free samples have no bearing on whether or not a woman will breastfeed, many say otherwise. This survey is only one more example of the impact that free samples of infant formula can have on a breastfeeding mother. – Summer, staff writer
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