Wednesday, September 3, 2008

If it's a breastfeeding support bag, why does it contain formula?

If you gave birth at a hospital in the US, you probably received a free diaper bag from one of the formula companies that included a pamphlet on breastfeeding and a sample of formula. This is what they call a "breastfeeding support bag." Yeah, I am just as confused as you are on how a formula sample is supposed to support breastfeeding. I read a newspaper article this morning that quoted a mother-child coordinator at a Chicago-area hospital who said they give the formula because "if breast milk is going to be lacking, they will have a back-up supply with them." Breast milk is never lacking. Formula is lacking. Formula isn't a living organism like breast milk. Formula doesn't contain antibodies. Formula isn't specially created for your baby. Formula doesn't change from day to day, hour to hour, feed to feed. There is nothing lacking in breast milk.

Yes, there is a very tiny percentage of women who don't make enough milk for their babies. Depending on who you ask, that number ranges from less than 1% to about 5%. So 95% of women will make enough milk to feed their babies. And even if the number were greater than that, why should hospitals of all places be handing out formula? Most women leave the hospital within 3 days of giving birth. The only thing a baby needs the first 3 days of life is colostrum. A mother's milk usually comes in like clockwork at 72 hours post-partum for a reason. A newborn doesn't need a full milk supply for the first few days, even up to a week.

Supplementing with formula in the early days is dangerous. Your body makes milk on a supply/demand cycle. If you do not demand the milk, your breasts won't make it. Giving your baby a bottle is a surefire way to ruin your breastfeeding relationship. Lactation consultants know this. Why don't nurses and pediatricians?

The formula companies don't care about the health of your baby, as they are in this to make money (and they the tune of about $2,000 per year for every child who is formula fed). Only in America are they allowed to market their product so aggressively (although they still do it in foreign countries where it's illegal, killing hundreds of thousands of babies each year whose mother's can no longer afford to buy formula and whose milk has long since dried up).

It's bad enough that the pharma companies who produce formula use underhanded direct marketing tactics (the aforementioned diaper bags, pamphlets with outdated breastfeeding information, formula checks in the mail, etc) but they also have nurses and doctors working for them, too. At some hospitals, formula reps are known to cater lunches for maternity staff and offer prizes to the nurse who uses the most formula with her patients. Ross Laboratories (makers of Similac) even state in a training manual to "never underestimate the importance of nurses. If they are sold and serviced properly, they can be strong allies. A nurse who supports Ross is like an extra salesperson.” (Abbott Labs v. Segura, 1995)

If you're tired of this aggressive and unethical marketing of formula, take a stand by having your baby in a WHO-certified Baby Friendly Hospital. You can also check out Ban the Bags for hospitals and birth centers in the US who do not give out the bags.

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