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Howard County General to End Infant Formula Gifts

That is one of several steps the hospital is taking to achieve special recognition for support for breastfeeding mothers.

This story has been updated to include additional statements the hospital released Tuesday.

officials said they will end the decades-long practice of giving gift bags of free baby formula samples to new mothers.

“We want to give patients everything possible to help support breastfeeding," Doris Cybert Wilcher, a Howard County General Hospital lactation consultant, told Patch.

Tell us in comments: Do you think the hospital should discontinue giving free formula gift bags to new mothers? Why or why not?

Hospital spokeswoman Sharon Sopp said the hospital, where about 3,200 babies are born each year, is currently giving away the samples, but the practice “will end in the near future,” a decision that was made “as an institution.”

Howard County General Hospital will join hospitals across the country that have begun to halt the formula gift bags, but it it still among the minority to take this step.

The decision is part of the hospital’s efforts to achieve a “Baby-Friendly” designation, a project of the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, a Boston-based nonprofit organization.

Howard County General Hospital is one of two hospitals in Maryland participating in the project and one of 90 nationwide, selected from 235 applicants, officials said.

The children’s health care organization said breastfeeding is “one of the most effective preventative health measures for infants and mothers,” but said that 50 percent of US-born babies are given formula within the first week. Breastfeeding rates “are lowest among low socio-economic populations,” the organization says.

The “Baby-Friendly” designation would mean the hospital successfully implemented what the initiative calls the “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding,” an effort it will undertake for 22 months while working with and learning from the other participants.

Those steps include giving no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants at the hospital, nor giving newborn infants any food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.

"We want to assure our community that, while the hospital encourages mothers to breastfeed, as it is beneficial to the health of baby and mom, if a mother chooses not to breastfeed or is not able to breastfeed, we will provide her with the formula and support to do so," Sopp said Tuesday.

The hospital cited numerous benefits to breastfeeding, including how antibodies in breast milk decrease the incidence and severity of childhood illness; reduced infant mortality; reduced risk of childhood obesity and decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers for mothers.

The International Formula Council, an industry association that represents the makers of infant formula, defended on its website the practice of formula gift bags at hospitals, which has been done for more than four decades, saying the “real barriers” to women and long-term breastfeeding include work and school demands, milk production issues, breast pump expense and “the feeling that breastfeeding restricts freedom.”

In December of 2011, hospitals in Rhode Island joined together to end the practice of  giving out the free formula in an effort to increase breastfeeding, according to the Boston Globe.

The Public Citizen, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization, says the “vast majority” of hospitals still give away free formula to new moms.

“Infant formula companies are directly harming babies’ health and undermining the health care mission of hospitals by engaging in this destructive marketing practice,” the organization said on its website.

In April, the organization sent a letter to more than 2,600 hospitals criticizing the practice of handing out formula gift bags, according to the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post also cited a recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, called a “Breastfeeding Report Card” for 2011, which said that 30.9 percent of breastfed infants in Maryland receive formula before 2 days of age, which is higher than the national rate of 24.5 percent.

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e.c.h July 27, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Because as stated in the article breast feeding is the lowest among the lower socio-economic families...they can't afford it and formula companies love to give it to hospitals so people can choose their brand.
e.c.h July 27, 2012 at 01:47 PM
I agree, they should continue it for everyone. It is not their decision to make.
e.c.h July 27, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Completely disagree. This is very anti mother. I don't need people judging me.
E.M.W. August 06, 2012 at 06:06 PM
"In the article the author also notes that breastfeeding is the lowest in low socio-economic homes, so why does it make sense to deny needy mothers of free resources." #1 FREE resource - breastmilk..... so, yep!
SUSAN WEYER August 07, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I think as health care professionals the hospital should promote breastfeeding. We practice evidence-based best medicine. Many women sadly think that formula is equivalent to human milk. It is not. Breastmilk is the "biological norm". As an IBCLC it is my job to teach mothers the health benefits of human milk for human babies. In fact, there are health risks associated with not breastfeeding for mothers and babies and I feel that all woman have the right to know medically accurate information.. Human milk is "species specific". Please refer to www.notmilk.com/101.html or watch the 101 Reasons to Breastfeed on YouTube. Whether or not to breastfeed or feed your baby breastmilk is not just a preference, it is a health decision. My heart breaks for the moms that I have worked with over the last 30 years that have tried and tried and had anatomical challenges latching a baby or had milk supply problems, etc... Sadly in many of these situations these moms didn't have the information they needed or the support they needed to make lactation work for them. Please read the Surgeon General's Call to Action Plan (google it) and learn more about this topic. Also www.banthebags.org -Remember formula companies want your money. New mothers are sleep deprived, hormonal and worried about baby. Breastfeeding is not always easy in the beginning and giving mothers free formula to take home undermines her confidence. It should only be used for "medical" reasons

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