All Mass. Maternity Wards Now ‘Bag-Free,’ No Baby Formula Gifts

A State House press conference this morning announced the official advent of the “bag-free” era in all Massachusetts maternity wards. It proclaimed that as of July 1, all the state’s hospitals have stopped distributing those little gift bags of baby formula samples to new mothers as they head home.

Massachusetts is the second state to go “bag-free,” following Rhode Island. From the press release:

Research has shown that mothers who receive infant formula samples are less likely to breastfeed exclusively and are more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations, contradicting recommendations by all major healthcare provider organizations to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of an infant’s life. The vast majority of hospitals in the U.S. currently distribute industry-provided infant formula samples to new moms.

As a part of a national campaign, Public Citizen sent letters in April to more than 2,600 hospitals nationwide, urging them to stop the practice. The organization said that hospitals nationwide should follow Massachusetts’ lead and stop marketing on behalf of the infant formula industry.

Readers, thoughts? Tune in to Radio Boston today between 3 and 4 for a discussion of how the ban on baby formula gifts will affect new mothers. I have to confess to a little ambivalence: No, formula makers should not be allowed to market to vulnerable new mothers in the trusted hospital setting. But…

My daughter was born huge at nine pounds and four ounces. After nearly two weeks of exclusive and peaceful breastfeeding, she had dropped to eight pounds and my pediatrician told me I would need to supplement my breast milk with formula, even as I struggled to pump up my output. At a point like that, samples come in handy. A great many mothers supplement their breast milk with formula, and the stuff is so expensive it’s stored under lock and key in drug stores. So free samples will make sense for many mothers, if distributed some other way.

At the press conference today, the bag ban won high praise from — among others — Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, who said that the state’s hospitals should be commended for voluntarily supporting the ban, doing “what many hospitals haven’t done in other states.”

“Rhode Island was first,” she said; now Massachusetts has gone “bag-free,” and she expects “that the dominos are going to start to fall around New England” and farther. “I suspect the work we have done will be followed up all across the country,” she said.

New mothers in Massachusetts start out strong on breastfeeding, she said, with about 84 percent choosing to initiate it after birth. But “By the time you get to four weeks, that 84 percent has dropped to about half, and by the time you get to eight weeks, it’s dropped to 30 to 35 percent.” More work must be done to support longer breastfeeding, she said, and now, at least, it will not be “undermined at the beginning by having the formula staring at you.”


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  • guest

    Im not sure one can of formula in a gift bag is going to sway a new mothers choice in breast feeding. All anyone has to do is run to the corner store and buy a can of formula. Adoptive mothers.. and forster parents do it every day. If a new mother wants to breast feed she will.. if she doesnt she wont. Its rediculous to say that a can of formula in a gift bag is the reason a woman stopped breast feeding

  • hjc24

    It’s not just the formula that’s in those gift bags (at least in some places, not sure about MA) – often they include Disney-branded disposable diapers, etc. Giving birth shouldn’t be an opportunity to force your products on a captive audience.

  • Steph

    Surprised (or perhaps not) that once again only the MOTHER assumes responsibility to maintaining breastfeeding.  Perhaps the good doctor should consider the rate at which mothers return to work, for example.  Often, women only take between two and six weeks.  It’s unsurprising that many women choose formula once additional caregivers maintain primary responsibility for extended time periods, whether it’s other family members or professional caregivers.  Between expressing milk, transporting milk safely, freezing it, and being sure that it is prepared properly for baby, formula seems simple, especially when workplaces are not breastfeeding friendly.

  • Sarah

    I think it’s great that they are getting rid of the formula samples as I do agree that it causes a lot of mothers to turn to formula when they might not otherwise. ( I was one of those mothers!)  However, I do think there are other things at play here as well that are important to note.   For one, I think informing pediatricians and doctors of some very simple breastfeeding information.  One being that breastfed infants DO grow on a different scale than a formula fed baby, so the growth charts will NOT be the same.  Another one being that they need to be informed that there are things like tongue tie which can prevent inadequate transfer of milk.  Both of my sons had this defect and both had problems nursing.  As a first time mom I had no idea what to look for and my first son and I missed out on a nursing relationship because nurses, doctors and lactation consultants didn’t know a thing about it.  With my second son I made sure they checked since there was a history of it and was told everything was fine, but I found out several months later that it was not fine and that he DID have tongue tie.  My point being that in the example given of poor weight gain, I don’t feel formula samples are the answer, I feel support, and professionals that are actually knowledgeable about breastfeeding, are key to a successful mother/baby nursing relationship in addition to personal and family support.

  • Amy Lischko

    Another step closer to a nanny state. I breast fed both children until they were both 1. I did have trouble with my first and secured the help of a lactation specialist who recommended supplementation with formula via a contraption I fastened to my breast. I was very happy to have a few cans of formula to get me started as well as a few coupons to help with the expense. The research on the impact of formula bag distribution and rates of breastfeeding is nonexistent. I wish we’d spend time on education and assistance with breast feeding instead.