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Sign the Public Citizen Petition

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successfully resisted his pressure until he fired and replaced three members just prior to a vote on the ban; it was rescinded in May 2006.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.

In 2007, Portland, Oregon became the first city in the US to become “bag-free” and in November 2011, Rhode Island banned formula sample giveaways in healthcare facilities.

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.

Sign the petition today.

Peggy O'Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.


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

Comments (52)

I am happy to say that my local hospital has banned formula in the discharge gift bags. Its a trend worth promoting nation wide. Breast IS best!
I agree with getting rid of the formula (i breastfeed) but i also got other things in my discharge bag that came in handy. Diapers, wipes, even a book that I could read to my daughter and a few other things. The way I look at it. It is a womens choice to feed her child they way she would like but if a mother is breastfeeding then have the nurses just take the formula out of the bag. simple solution and its not going to cost tax payers money for people to take something as dumb as this into congress.
Stop hospitals from giving these samples which act as promotion for formula and not breastfeeding
Even though my boys are now teenagers, I thought what a waste of resources to receive free baby formula when I knew I was going to breast feed. Seems like the hospital should screen who should receive the goody bags.
I've breastfed my three children but oddly, each time I received that formula sample in the hospital bag it felt like doubt. How about some milk storage bags next time!
I am from Rhode Island. Hospitals here are no longer giving out the free formula samples. We are the smallest state in the US. I think we only have 7 hospitals. But I am proud of "Little Rhody" and I hope all states follow our example.
I don't know why but I sorta disagree. I breastfed (even though I had to pump the entire time and it ruined my experience but hey, he wouldn't latch and I had resources - big time). They all agreed that my nipple was too small and needed serious extension (sucking) to get the tendons to loosen. But I kept going...and for what? My milk hurt him. For whatever reason, my milk upset his stomach (no matter what I ate) so for some parents, education about formula is a good thing. We should know (without pushing a certain brand on us) why formula can be a great help to mothers who cannot breastfeed or do not want to breastfeed, it is a choice..and if I had to do it all over again, I would have fed him formula. 7 months of mastitis, pain and overall discomfort for all of us was not worth it..the minute he started earth's best soy formula, his stomach settled and he has been a healthy kid pretty much since birth. I don't think our tax dollars are at work here though - the companies give this out for free.
I must say that I actually disagree. I recently gave birth to my third child and even though my hospital did not offer the bags, I called the companies directly and asked for them. Of the 3 I called, all of them offered exclusively breastfeeding bags for new moms. While they included coupons for formula, they didn't include actual samples. They did however include bottles for breastmilk storage, educational toys coupons for numerous other products including cloth diapers, and lanolin. All of them came in bags that are great for a busy mom! Why wouldn't I want these products?
I also breastfed, and the formula samples did not change my mind in any way. I held on to them, and gave them to friends. With my 2nd child- I had an extremely HORRIBLE case of thrush and couldnt even pump. The samples came in handy. With my 3rd child, the samples were removed from my bag since I was a BFing mom. I agree that breast is best, but I am also open minded and realize that it is a CHOICE and some mothers simply can't. If a mother doesn't want them, she can simply decline them or donate them. I don't see the need for this petition.
I had both my daughters in small-town hospitals in Alberta, and each hospital gave me a tin of formula when I left. The first hospital had a midwifery program and the midwife spent quite a bit of time helping me figure out how to breastfeed my newborn baby, so I was surprised that such a hospital would still be giving away formula samples. I agree totally that hospitals SHOULD NOT be giving out formula to new moms. I ended giving both of my tins to the food bank.
Formula is pushed on mothers even before the baby is born. We need to take a stand and say enough is enough. Breast is best and we need to offer new mothers support and encouragement not a can of crap that makes them feel like a failure.
Don't sign the petition! It's not fair to those of us who medically can't breastfeed and rely on those samples (and many others) to help offset the cost of formula. I am all for supporting breastfeeding and I do think that Mom's need MORE support from the hospital, but if they need to formula they should be able to have access to it.
I am a breastfeeding mother BUT come on! Banning formula samples?? Really? If a mom is "converted" to formula feeding by one little sample then seriously, she didn't want to breastfeed in the first place. I'm all for promoting breastfeeding but if you think banning formula samples will dissuade women from formula feeding well that's just ridiculous in my opinion. You want to really make a change? Get hospitals to offer proper breastfeeding support. My hospital used to offer free lactation consultant sessions. I just had a baby last month and found out they are no longer available! Not only that but when I contacted public health to enquire about seeing an LC (the only way to see one now)nobody returned my call!! Seriously, put the effort where it's needed - making breastfeeding support available to those who need it! Not by banning stupid formula samples.
Whenever someone gave me samples of formula, I just smiled and said thank you b/c I can always give it to someone who needs it.
Why would you this? This is awful. There are MANY moms out there who are not able to breastfeed. When my first was born premature, I wanted to do everything I could for him which included pumping (I hadn't planned on breastfeeding, but everything changed when he came 13 weeks early). I pumped and pumped - 15-20 minutes every 3-4 hours for 1 solid month. The most milk I ever got was 10ccs (about 1/3 of an ounce) a day (total for the day, that includes all of the pumping sessions - and pumping just after holding him, pumping while looking at a picture of him, taking medicine to get more milk,...). The hospital I delivered at (and the other 2 my DS went to for surgeries) offered lactation consultants. I used them and all of their advice...still no milk. My milk didn't come in with my next 2 kids either. My mom and my sisters had the same problem. After unsuccessfully trying to pump and breastfeed, I had a lactation consultant tell me sometimes formula is the best. Please do not sign this petition! What's next? No more disposal diaper samples? Instead of banning samples, do what Jennifer did - smile, say thanks, and give the samples to some one who needs them.
My SIL just had a baby in our local maternity hospital. Between her OB and the hospital she got three months worth of free formula before the child was even born. Her OB had her sign up on all of the formula company mailing lists and she received 24 pre-mixed bottles from one, full sized cans from another few, and when she left the hospital, she was given a bag full of sample packages. I was completely floored that this could even be allowed. How can it be ethical to advertise to a FETUS? I didn't get anything like this leaving my birth center. We had some neat reading material, some nipple cream and baby leggings in ours. I'm by no means against gift bags like this, but I'm against the formula samples. Their marketing is very sneaky and aggressive. They pounce at a very vulnerable time for moms and babies. It's predatory.
i got my bag at discharge. it had two ice packs and a bottle and both powdered and liquid formula. it took five days for my milk to come in and i have to admit i was tempted to give in by those cans and that bag. i didn't give up though, i used those ice packs and bottle for expressed breast milk. i later donated the can and bottle of (what i now consider)poison to a food bank. it seemed ethical at the time. anyway, 23 months later, i weaned my daughter from the breast. i held out and breastfed exclusively. but, those cans were a temptation in a very fragile time of my life and i resent this practice. a friend of mine who gave birth two months later found it really easy to give up nursing in two weeks. she used the formula from her bag and went on to purchase the same brand for the next year. pretty effective marketing, i'd say. it does need to stop. thank you for this article, i signed the petition and read the toolkit. very good stuff. jen
being pushed away from breastfeeding with my first a few weeks ago durring my hospital stay, and then being discharged with bag and packet and coupons for formula, made it worse. I breastfed exclusivly, but it was hard with the temptation to give in the hospitals push.
I don't know what it's like in the USA but here in Canada, hospitals are passionately moving towards being "baby friendly". This means that there are no formula samples being handed out. Formula used in the hospital is kept in a closed cupboard. Hospital staff cannot advertise formula & even notepads or pens with the formula company's brand names are either kept out of sight, thrown away or just not accepted by the hospitals. In fact, hospitals can no longer accept funding or free product from formula companies. This doesn't mean that somehow, the formula companies get your address (from maternity stores) & send new moms a free sample but you won't find it in the hospitals if they are working towards the baby friendly initiative. I feel for moms who have trouble breastfeeding. Get help early, try laid back nursing, unwrap your babies & spend plenty if time skin to skin. Breastfeeding early & often builds supply. All the best.
What a wonderful subject!! It's getting way too easy to ignore our babies! Just give them this free formula & you know what, I'll have a C-Section too, for no reason other than I don't want to push the baby out of my vagina. Ugh. I'm breast feeding, co sleeping, mother of two. I have been given so many samples. Seriously, thanks, but No thanks!
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