Formula was directly advertised to consumers for the first time in 1989. Prior to that, formula was marketed only to health care professionals who, in turn, prescribed it to their patients. Prescription drug use has increased 71% since drugs were first advertised to consumers, and likewise, formula feeding increases when formula is marketed directly to new moms.
Most new moms want to breastfeed; 75% give it a try. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all US babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, only 13.3% are. One of the obstacles to continued breastfeeding for many moms is the relentless marketing of formula; nearly two-thirds of new mothers receive free formula samples.
Most of the 3300 US maternity hospitals distribute industry sponsored sample packs of formula to new mothers, regardless of whether or not they are breastfeeding. A study in Pediatrics showed that only 28% of these hospitals were sample free in 2010, up from 14% in 2007.
Research shows that formula marketing undermines breastfeeding. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have called for an end to formula samples in hospitals. The WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes monitors formula advertising internationally because 5000 babies a day die from lack of breastfeeding.
In 2005, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the distribution of formula samples to new mothers in health care facilities. The Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, co-founded by Marsha Walker, worked for eight years to get this legislation passed and also launched a national campaign, Ban the Bags, to eliminate the distribution of formula discharge samples.
The Massachusetts governor at the time was Mitt Romney, who pressured the Public Health Council to rescind the ban. The council successfully resisted his pressure until he fired and replaced three members just prior to a vote on the ban; it was rescinded in May 2006. Less than two weeks later, Romney announced a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the world’s largest formula maker, to build a $66 million pharmaceutical plant in Devens, Massachusetts. Nonetheless, many Massachusett hospitals upheld the ban voluntarily.
Public Citizen, the premier consumer advocacy group founded in 1971, has taken up the cause of banning formula sample bags. In March, the organization wrote to 2600 US hospitals urging them to discontinue the distribution of commercial infant formula discharge bags.
On April 9th, Public Citizen launched a petition demanding that Abbott, Mead Johnson and Nestle stop distributing samples of infant formula in health care facilities; over 12,000 have signed it so far. According to the petition, “the immediate end of this practice would be a crucial initial step to become fully compliant with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.”
Does the hospital in your town distribute free formula samples to new moms? Here’s a list of bag free hospitals and here are the hospitals that received Public Citizen‘s letter. In her Ban the Bags article for Mothering, Marsha Walker suggests a letter of complaint to the CEO and other officials of the hospital as a first step. Here’s a sample letter from Ban the Bags.
Check out the Ban the Bags Tool Kit.and other Action Ideas. If Public Citizen doesn’t get any response from the hospital in your area, consider social action. Start a thread in Lactivism or Finding Your Tribe to encourage others to join you.
Tags: AAP, Abbot, American Academy of Pediatrics, Ban the Bags, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formula marketing, International Breastfeeding Symbol, lactivism, Marsha Walker, Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, maternity hospitals, Mead Johnson, Mitt Romney, Nestle, Oregon, Pediatrics, Portland, Public Citizen, Rhode Island, social action, WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes