MA Says No to Formula Goodie Bags

baby formula

It’s a tradition: You go to the hospital to give birth and leave with a goody bag stuffed with formula and formula coupons, courtesy of one of the big formula companies. Some moms say yay, but breastfeeding advocates claim that sending new moms home with free formula samples – and especially those pricey 2-ounce bottles of ready-made formula – creates a slippery slope that leads from first tough breastfeeding moment to breastfeeding failure. It’s just too easy to reach for that easy bottle when your baby is screaming and you’re having latch-on or production issues, advocates say.

This alleged slippery slope in 2005 led Massachusetts to impose a statewide ban on formula sampling in hospitals. The ban was quickly overturned by then-governor Mitt Romney (update: see Time magazine’s report on Romney’s action here).  In December 2011 Rhode Island became the first state to successfully ban the distribution of formula samples to moms in its hospitals. And this month, the last remaining Massachusetts hospitals that were still distributing formula companies’ samples agreed to stop doing so, making the state the second to say no to formula handouts.

As reported on, more than a dozen studies have shown that breastfeeding moms who received free formula samples were less likely to be breastfeeding by the time their infant was one month old. “Using formula without a medical reason is one of the biggest predictors of breast-feeding failure,” said Dr. Melissa Bartick, chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. Bartick also blames free samples of pricier formula brands for costing moms who choose to stick to those ore familiar brands rather than switch to generics about $700 a year.

Fomula companies, represented by the International Formula Council, disagree with the research and claim that moms returning to work might be to blame for lack of breastfeeding success, rather than  free formula samples.

The move to voluntarily ban free formula in the hospitals got a boost from a list posted by a state-based group MotherBaby Summit; the list highlighted hospitals that had stopped giving out the freebies and also included those that were still doing so. The group’s website is now celebrating MA as the 2nd “bag-free state” in the nation.

What do you think? Are free formula samples a help to new moms or do they offer too easy an alternative to toughing out the breastfeeding challenge?