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What Do Mothers Say About Receiving Industry-Sponsored Formula Samples?

We asked recent moms about their experience of receiving infant formula marketing materials in healthcare facilities. Here's what they had to say:

“I was angry and disgusted that [the hospital] had gone behind my back and given [the formula industry sponsored discharge bag] to my husband. I was not asked if I wanted or needed these marketing materials but there was an urgency that I, like every other mother, had to be given them. It made me feel like a cog in a wheel and not an individual.”

– Elise, Atlanta, GA

“When I returned home [from the hospital] we received a full can of complementary formula in the mail. I know this can of formula came from the hospital in some way, because the hospital is the only entity who uses that particular misspelling of my last name, which appeared on the can. […]

I felt extremely betrayed to received such a package from the institution where I sought the midwifery model of care, from an organization that made sure lactation consultants were made available to me and who followed up to make sure nursing was going well. What sort of message does it send to also provide this ‘just in case’ formula? [...]This can of formula on my doorstep was just one more voice in a chorus of people saying, ‘I don't think your body will function properly to feed this baby.’”

– Katy, Pittsburg, PA

“The breastfeeding kits I got from my OB/GYN… consisted mainly of formula and no helpful information about nursing a baby. Felt more like a ‘don't bother’ kit, sponsored by Enfamil.”

– Tara, Chattanooga, TN

“By the time I had my second child, I was adamantly determined to breastfeed. […]  I was not influenced to purchase formula by the bags, but I do see how the presence of a "sample" of formula can be appealing to an exhausted and discouraged new mom.  I could understand how a mother could feel driven to try it as just another way to appease a baby. The act of a hospital handing a new mom a sample of formula is the same as the hospital telling the mom that she can't breastfeed exclusively, or that she shouldn't breastfeed exclusively.  The choice of formula, if it is necessary, should be made in consultation with a baby's pediatrician, not determined by a contract with a formula company.

– Mitzi, Rochester, NY

“When you go to your OB office for initial appointment, mothers are given packets of information. The post cards request information on choice of feeding; if you fill them out and select, 'plan to exclusive breastfeed', you will be sent cases of formula. This was the same with my children, and continues per my breastfeeding support group mothers. 

“I have had patients tell me they are "choosing formula because formula has ARA and DHA, breastmilk doesn't have that" (of course we know this is false). The formula industry is promoting confusing information, not making it clear that breast milk is best.”

– Carla, Lactation Consultant, RN, and Mom

“When I was pregnant with my son, the midwife at the OB practice I went to asked if I was going to breastfeed and then said, "Great!  Here's a breastfeeding support bag." This was the extent of the breastfeeding "support" I received from that practice. Inside, of course, was a bunch of formula and some bottles and maybe a couple of ice packs, along with some literature on how my nipples were going to be sore and I should let my partner give bottles to let them rest. Clearly, that was not supportive of breastfeeding. I donated the formula to someone who needed it, and at my next appointment registered my disappointment at the practice.”

– Stella, Lititz, PA

“My husband and I were really confused and disappointed that even moms expressing no desire to use formula were still sent home with some!  We didn't take anything from the box – just left it to be given to another family.  For various reasons we ended up feeding formula to our first child.  We chose organic formula and would have done that again if the need had arisen.  I'm very thankful that breastfeeding has worked for us this time but I was very thankful that formula was available to us the first time around.  But I think having the hospitals push it is unnecessary.  Everyone knows what formula is and where to get it.  While inpatient our hospital gave wonderful breastfeeding support by the nurses and lactation consultants.  It's too bad that the thing you get on the way out the door is pushing formula.

– Sara, Wauwatosa, WI

“I received a free diaper bag, two cans of powdered formula, a six pack of small pre-packaged newborn formula bottles and assorted formula coupons and checks [from the hospital]. This angered me greatly.  I had been very vocal about my intent to breastfeed and even asked not to receive the sample bag.  My nurse gave it to my husband anyway.  I felt like it was an onslaught.

– Nicole, Manassas, VA

“About 3 weeks after we got home from the hospital we got two boxes — one from Similac and one from Enfamil — that contained 2 cans of powdered formula each. They came with information about how breastfeeding is best — which I thought was contrary — and a phone number to call if you have any questions about feeding your baby. […]

We were very clear that we were exclusively breastfeeding with hospital staff, so they didn't send us home with formula.  But we saw many others (we were in the NICU the first week) being sent home with formula along with the diapers and wipes they sent us home with. […] It struck me as unfortunate that many of the new young moms [at the hospital that were] taking their preemies home were not breastfeeding.  It was even more striking when I saw that the formula they sent me was $22 a can -- and the young women were definitely living on limited incomes.

 – Marybeth, Washington, DC

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