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Public Citizen Launches New Campaign Against Hospital Formula-Pack Handouts

Four months ago, the AP could report that "New mothers in Rhode Island will no longer leave the hospital with a free goody bag of infant formula."

But according to Public Citizen -- which today launched a campaign to take hospitals to task for formula handouts -- other new parents in "at least two-thirds" of American hospitals can't say the same.

In a letter distributed to more than 2,600 American hospitals, the organization argues that the “distribution of commercial discharge bags marketing infant formula is … unethical and contrary to good public health policy," adding: "When hospitals distribute formula samples, they participate in the marketing efforts of formula companies at the expense of patients.”

“Hospital promotion of infant formula in discharge bags contravenes the consensus by all major healthcare provider organizations that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after a child is born is best for the health of both babies and mothers,” the group said in a press release.

Public Citizen has also posted an online petition targeting formula manufacturers Abbott, Mead Johnson and Nestle.

The campaign is the latest step in an ongoing march to end the controversial formula-handout practice. The CDC’s 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card found that nearly a quarter of breastfed babies born in the U.S. receive formula before they are two days old.

When mothers formula feed or discontinue breastfeeding early, the risk for infectious illnesses in their children is increased, as is the mother's risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk with no solids or other liquids except vitamin/mineral supplements or medications) for about the first 6 months of infancy, and then continued breastfeeding, along with the introduction of iron-rich foods, for at least the first year of an infant's life. Although approximately 80% of women in the United States indicate before delivery that they intend to breastfeed, and 75% initiate breastfeeding, at 1 week half of women have already given their infant formula, and only 31% are breastfeeding to any extent at 9 months.

For women who plan to breastfeed, experiences and support during the first hours and days after birth influence their later ability to continue breastfeeding.

Were you given formula samples after the birth of your child? Did they have a significant influence on your attitude to breastfeeding? Let us know in the comments below.