The Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster is in the “preliminary stages” of examining whether to stop giving gift bags containing infant formula samples to new mothers upon discharge from the hospital.
In an interview this month, Linda Grogan, executive director of Women’s and Children’s Services at the hospital, said the hospital will probably develop a gift bag of its own with “something in the bag other than formula—maybe nursing pads and books about breastfeeding.”
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The hospital in Westminster is mulling a change to its practice following other hospitals in the state that are in the process of eliminating the formula gift bags as a way to encourage breastfeeding.
officials in Columbia announced earlier this month that they would end the decades-long practice of giving gift bags of free baby formula samples to new mothers.
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.
The hospital in Columbia also said it would continue to offer support to mothers who choose not to breastfeed, despite the decision to do away with the sample formula gift bags.
The question of when or how to do away with the infant formula gift bags at the hospital is a touchy one, according to Grogan.
“We just don’t want moms to---we don’t want to make them feel bad about their decision,” Grogan told Patch. “There’s already enough guilt about being a parent. We have to be careful about how we deliver the message to folks.”
About 66 to 67 percent of mothers are breastfeeding upon discharge from the hospital, Grogan said, adding that she wanted to get that number up higher before eliminating formula sample gift bags for new mothers.
She said some women seek out the gift bags, even those who deliver at another hospital.
“We even had women come here and say they were out of formula bags, but can they get their free formula bags here,” Grogan said.
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.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, citing documented “neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding,” as well as lower hospitalization rates for infants who are exclusively breastfed, lower obesity rates for breastfed infants, as well as a reduction in gastrointestinal tract infections. The policy is also based on a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death syndrome associated with breastfeeding and other health benefits, according to the academy
In April, The Public Citizen 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.
Need help or have questions about breastfeeding? Grogan said a breastfeeding support group meets Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. at The Women’s Place, at the Carroll Hospital Center. Babies are welcome, she said.
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