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.
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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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