Promote breastfeeding: End formula samplesPosted October 17th, 2012 by Roberta Heine
Get ‘em while they’re young. You’ll often hear us saying that the early years are when we can make the biggest impact in a child’s development. That’s why encouraging breastfeeding is so important.
The benefits of nursing are numerous: children become healthier, more resistant to disease and less at risk of SIDS or later obesity. Breastfeeding may also protect babies from developing allergies and lead to higher IQs. For mothers, there’s even a reduction in risk for postpartum depression and certain cancers. Clearly, then, encouraging breastfeeding is another area where attention in the early years can make a big difference.
Health experts agree that children should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue to get breast milk for at least the first year. But at the end of six months, fewer than one in six mothers are still breastfeeding, according to the Surgeon General of the United States.
That’s why many child health experts are calling for an end to free samples of baby formula in hospitals. Often new mothers are given a sort of gift bag containing sample baby formula — part generosity and part marketing. These could certainly help women who have trouble breastfeeding. But it could also tempt many others away from breastfeeding. Being a new mother is tough enough, after all, and sometimes formula is a lot easier.
We’re not anti-formula here, but nursing is clearly superior for the health of the child. We encourage every mother who is able to breastfeed exclusively at least for those first six months. And the formula companies agree. “Breast milk is the gold standard; it’s the best for babies,” Christopher Perille, a spokesman for the company that makes Enfamil formula, is quoted saying in a New York Times piece on the issue this week.
Yet formula samples send the opposite message. By receiving formula samples directly from the hospital, the implicit message is the hospital endorses formula as a substitute for breast milk from the start. Charts on the Enfamil website (below) show how certain nutrients are just as common in their formula as breast milk, reinforcing the idea that the two are interchangeable.
A majority of women now breastfeed, a great victory for public health in recent decades. Around 75 percent of babies now get some breast milk, up from just 25 percent in the ’70s. Still, there’s more we can do. Ending free samples of formula for most new parents can help ensure that every child gets the best start.
Roberta Heine is Vice President of Communications at Voices for America’s Children, the nation’s largest network of multi-issue child advocacy groups.