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Hospitals Eliminating Newborn Freebie Package and Encouraging Breastfeeding

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According to a new study published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics, fewer hospitals are passing out sample packs of infant formula to new mothers on their maternity wards. Several agencies and physician groups including the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discourage the practice as it has a negative impact on the number of women who choose to breastfeed.

Anne Merewood PhD MPH, a certified lactation consultant and director of the Breastfeeding Center at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues contacted 1239 US maternity hospitals in 2007 and asked about their practice of distributing company-sponsored diaper bag sample packs consisting of infant formula and coupons for baby supplies. The team followed up with hospitals in the 20 best and 20 worst states in 2010 to look for changes.

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Although fewer hospitals are sending sample packs home with new mothers, most still do – about 72% - most likely because of financial reasons. CDC director Thomas Frieden MD MPH pointed out that in exchange for sending home the samples, hospitals receive free supplies they need for preemies and special needs infants who cannot breastfeed.

Rhode Island hospitals were least likely to send home infant formula samples with their patients. Maryland, Mississippi, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia were the most likely.

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The group cautioned that they only considered distribution of sample packs within maternity services, which wouldn't have caught distribution from other areas of the hospital if the maternity service staff wasn’t aware of it. "One industry response to widespread efforts to change this practice has been to increase distribution of samples in other health care settings, for example, via the obstetrician's office, or direct to the home," they wrote.

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In August, the CDC released a report that found hospitals need to do more to encourage moms to breastfeed. The authors found that less than 5 percent of U.S. infants are born in "baby-friendly" hospitals that fully support breast-feeding, and that 1 in 4 infants receive formula within hours of birth. Experts believe that new parents may interpret the hospital's gift of free formula as an endorsement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups recommend that infants receive only breast milk for their first six months. Cria Perrine, Ph.D., one of the CDC report authors, notes that while 75% of moms do start nursing their newborns, half of them give their baby formula by the time their infant is one week old.

The Joint Commission hospital accrediting group last year added "exclusive breast milk feeding" during newborns' hospital stays as a measure that hospitals can be evaluated on. The goal is to discourage hospitals from giving infants formula when it's not medically necessary, said commission spokeswoman Elizabeth Zhani.

Source reference:
Sadacharan R, et al "Trends in US Hospital Distribution of Industry- Sponsored Infant Formula Sample Packs" Pediatrics 2011;128:702–705.