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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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MG42 July 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I'm completely baffled at how people will do anything for baby nutrition, but allow their older children to consume, on a daily basis, soda and all sorts of other junk food that contributes to obesity.
Christine July 10, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Wow. "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." Umm, so they're going to force women to breastfeed unless there is a medical issue? I can understand wanting to support women in their choice to breastfeed, but this is extreme. What if a woman chooses to formula-feed? Would she have to have someone pop over to the store and buy some, since it looks like the hospital won't supply it unless there's a medical necessity? That inflammatory issue aside, as a mom who really wanted to breastfeed, but couldn't for medical reasons, I liked getting the formula gift bag from the hospital, so seeing that they won't give those out anymore makes me sad. Sure, if a mom is able to, and wants to breastfeed, they shouldn't be given a bag of formula that they don't want and won't use, but for the moms who do rely on formula (which sure isn't cheap), the freebies from the hospital were wonderful. And as the mom of a healthy, thriving, formula-fed baby, I take serious issue with the blanket statement that infant formula companies are harming babies' health. It's not poison, people. What a one-sided article.
Lorraine Kelly July 10, 2012 at 01:23 PM
This is wonderful news. If new moms receive the support and encouragement for breastfeeding, before and after giving birth, they are much more likely to be successful. When a woman chooses to breastfeed and is successful, again, I appreciate this is not for everyone, it is convenient, nurturing, and has the best nutrition for your new babe. Here is something that even money, and formula can get very pricey, can't buy! Congratulations HCGH! Best of luck new moms!
Howard County General Hospital July 10, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Christine - The hospital will still provide infant formula for babies who need it or whose mothers request it. It is only the free samples of formula that will be discontinued. For more detailed information about the Best Fed beginnings initiative, please visit: bit.ly/NZGJVG
Howard County General Hospital July 10, 2012 at 02:50 PM
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.
Katy July 10, 2012 at 04:45 PM
SO happy to hear that Howard County is working towards a Baby Friendly designation. This is great news for ALL moms and babies.
Maria S. July 10, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I was unable to breastfeed (made NO milk) with my only child, due to a serious medical problem (related to an undiagnosed brain tumor.) I worked with several lactation specialists at this very hospital, rented a pump and tried pumping for hours a day. I was so incredibly frustrated and depressed, I did everything in my power to breastfeed and wasn't able to do so. I was very grateful for the formula samples; at home, all I had ready were supplies for pumped milk. They enabled me to feed my baby until my husband was able to get to the store and figure out what bottles would work... I had a c-section and my baby was born with respiratory problems, so I couldn't get to the store myself. As I said, I was so grateful for the formula samples; at least I had a backup, and knew what to buy, during those crazy first few days home (with a colicky baby!) I beat myself up for weeks until I was finally diagnosed at the baby's three month birthday, at least I finally understood why my efforts to breastfeed had failed. I strongly believe that the hospital should keep a few samples in reserve for mothers like me. If a mother can easily breastfeed, then she doesn't need the samples. But there are some mothers that do, and it may not be their fault.
Pamela July 10, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I delivered at Howard county . I could not breast feed because of medicine issues. I think it is a shame that they are completly doing away with the free formula. It helped us the first day at home. Maybe they could continue it for the moms who can't breastfeed?
Carolyn July 11, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Playing devil's advocate...Why is it the hospital's responsibility to provide free formula for a mother to take home? That's different than providing it for her in the hospital, should she choose to use it.
Cynthia Wick July 13, 2012 at 07:11 PM
VERY happy that they're finally going to stop undermining breastfeeding and start promoting the healthiest way to feed a baby! It has been shown over and over that handing out formula reduces breastfeeding rates, both initiation and continuation, despite any recommendations to the contrary that may be given at the same time. And everyone, please *read* the article and comments from the hospital - they will NOT stop giving formula to babies who need it, whether because their mothers cannot or choose not to breastfeed. The hospital will NOT let a baby go hungry! Next, I wish for 24/7 IBCLC coverage...
sharon gilbert July 16, 2012 at 06:03 PM
This is a new way to make an already emotionally and physically exhausted new mom feel inadequate because she doesn't want to or can't breastfeed; or if she wants to give her baby a pacifier. Is this not also depriving the father of being able to feed the baby? Since the mother's milk doesn't "come in" for days, should the baby just starve?
e.c.h July 27, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I think that this is horrible. The last thing you need as a new mother is someone judging your decisions. 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. Also not providing pacifiers to newborns will make for a very unhappy unit of the hospital. Babies crying and mothers being denied resources and being judged if their body is not able to produce...I thought hospitals were suppose to help people.
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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