August has been designated National Breastfeeding Month to highlight the significant health and economic benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and babies. However, three mega-corporations – Nestle, Abbott and Mead Johnson – continue to spend millions inappropriately marketing infant formula including inside the hospitals we trust. Reputable authorities including the U.S. Surgeon General formally promote breastfeeding over formula feeding because studies confirm that breastfeeding, whenever possible, is the healthiest option for mothers and babies. These companies know that if they can get free formula samples into the hands of new mothers while they’re still in the hospital, moms are more likely to rely on formula, interfering with their initial intentions to breastfeed. While those samples appear to be “free,” mothers, babies and U.S. taxpayers pay large sums for the formula itself, and the associated healthcare costs, in the long-run.

I recently joined Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert and will be coordinating our campaign to keep formula marketing out of health care facilities so that mothers can make objective, informed choices about how to feed their babies. When they hand out discharge bags with free samples, hospitals are essentially signaling to mothers that they recommend or endorse formula. According to studies published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Government Accountability Office formula marketing discourages breastfeeding for this very reason. Formula marketing in hospitals is not only manipulative, it is a violation of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

We’re on the Right Track

The good news is we’re making significant progress, hopefully as a result of our and others’ campaign efforts. In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mPINC study found that 45.5 percent of hospitals nationwide had stopped distributing formula samples. This is a notable improvement from 2009, when 34.2 percent of hospitals had ended the practice, which itself was an improvement over 2007. Certain states have made extraordinary progress. Over the past few years, nearly all hospitals in Maryland committed to stop distributing formula samples to new mothers, among other changes. In July of 2012, Massachusetts became the second state after Rhode Island to ban discharge bags in all of its hospitals thanks to the Ban the Bags campaign. Many more hospitals, including in New York City and California, have followed. These efforts likely led to the significant increase in breastfeeding initiation nationwide, which may have contributed to declines in obesity among preschoolers from 2008-2011.

But the fight is far from over. The majority of the nation’s hospitals still provide discharge bags with free samples. The majority do not exclusively breastfeed during the six months when it matters most. Over the next few months, we will be pressuring the nation’s highest-ranked hospitals to ban formula marketing. Some have, but all of these industry leaders need to set an example.

There are many challenges to exclusive breastfeeding, and new moms need much more support at home and work, and in the broader society. But one thing is clear: Corporate formula marketing in hospitals provides no support and sends the wrong message. What can you do to end it? Sign this petition to Nestle, Mead Johnson and Abbott and demand that they end formula marketing in health care facilities. Then visit our campaign page for other action ideas.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

 

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Comments

  • I think it’s important to find a way to get the formula companies to stop advertising, period, as well as to stop them from doing more subtle forms of marketing, like the free formula and all the money they put into medical schools. It is an uphill battle, since there is little profit (directly) in promoting breastfeeding. I wish you luck.

  • Thank you so much for fighting this battle on a grand scale! I remember complaining out loud upon receiving “breasfeeding support pack” (full of formula) in the hospital when my 1st daughter was born in 1998. I wrote a paper in college about the evils of formula, about company reps posing as nurses in Africa, giving poor young mothers formula samples! Nothing had changed with hospitals in the US promoting formula by the time I had my 2nd daughter in 2004. So I went to a birth center instead. Thank you for what you are doing!

  • Michael MacPherson

    Well of course mega-corporations like Nestle, Abbott and Mead Johnson under mind women’s breast milk, look at all that profits they are missing out on, the longer women breast feed their children the more profits they are losing out on.

  • Lisa

    I am so glad to see this campaign launched again. I had my second son in June of this year and I was happy that not only was I not offered formula in the hospital, but a lactation consultant came to my room twice. (This is a baby friendly hospital and there is not even a nursery to send the baby to for the healthy moms/healthy babies floor). Even with all this, I think all patient’s names were given to a formula company because 2 days after I got home, I got a formula “welcome home” package in the mail. My baby was born 2 weeks early so I am fairly certain this wasn’t tied to a purchase somewhere else (for instance, Motherhood Maternity). Plus the package said “welcome home”, they knew the baby had arrived. This also should be banned. I am not interested in receiving anything, ever from a formula company unless I go on their website and request that they send me something. Good luck with this campaign!!!

  • Dan Scarl

    In the 1970s, Nestle hired women to go into villages in poor countries, to pose as nurses and teach that formula was better than breast feeding. The women would then use the free formula the “nurses” left, their breasts would dry up — and them they had to struggle to buy what formula they could. Very often the amount they could purchase was inadequate, and their babies became malnourished. Nestle finally stopped this practice after the World Health Organization threatened them with a boycott.

  • As Michael MacPherson brilliantly say: why should Nestlé and the others advocate breast-feeding. There was a case brought against Nestlé in the 80′s – the company sold pwdered milk to women in Africa, therby increasing infant mortalitiy. The CEOs have absolutely no morals..sell more, earn more and to hell with the poor.

  • I breast fed both of my sons & all hospitals should encourage breast feeding. I have read the ingredients in infant formula & I was appalled at what was in the formula- corn syrup solids was the 1rst ingredient listed. That doesn’t sound healthy to me.

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