Advocacy group calls on hospitals to support breastfeeding

A public health advocacy group is calling on Maryland’s hospitals to stop handing out free infant formula to new mothers because it can encourage them to give up on breastfeeding.

Public Citizen says the distribution done by at least two-thirds of U.S. hospitals is unethical and violates good public health policy. It also undermines the efforts that many hospitals have undertaken to encourage breast feeding.

Officials there have written letters, co-signed by more than 100 other organizations, to administrators of 33 Maryland hospitals. They’re doing the same thing in other states.

The group is also launching an online petition to get the makers of Gerber (Nestle), Enfamil (Mead Johnson) and Similac (Abbott) to stop marketing products in hospitals. Their brand name products can cost $800 and $2,800 annually per baby.

Formula is counter to advice from healthcare research and provider groups that babies be breast fed exclusively for the first six months. Public Citizen says research shows mothers who receive formula samples are less likely to breastfeed exclusively and more likely to breastfeed for shorter durations.

 “Hospitals and doctors’ offices shouldn’t be used as marketing vehicles for any product, period,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in a statement. “They certainly shouldn’t be pushing products that harm the health and well-being of babies and new moms.”

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about a third of hospitals already have stopped handing out the formula.

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