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Public Citizen Applauds Massachusetts Hospitals’ Refusal to Hawk Infant Formula to New Mothers

July 18, 2012

Public Citizen Applauds Massachusetts Hospitals’ Refusal to Hawk Infant Formula to New Mothers

Bay State Becomes Second ‘Bag-Free State’ in the Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen commends the nearly 50 Massachusetts maternity facilities that will no longer distribute infant formula company discharge bags, traditionally given to new moms at hospital discharge. As of July 1, all of the state’s maternity facilities have eliminated the practice, making it the second state to do so. The hospitals’ rejection of industry-provided formula samples was thanks to an effort spearheaded by the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition; the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Ban the Bags and Dr. Bobbi Philipp, a pediatrician from Boston Medical Center.

As a part of a national campaign to stop infant formula marketing in healthcare facilities, Public Citizen sent letters in April to more than 2,600 hospitals nationwide, urging them to stop the practice. The organization said that doing so is unethical and violates good public health policy. Yet, the practice still is pervasive, with nearly two-thirds of hospitals nationwide allowing formula companies to market to new moms.

In 2005, nearly all maternity facilities in Massachusetts were giving out the discharge bags. The marketing technique results in lower breastfeeding rates in part because of the implied endorsement of the hospital and health professionals. Hospitals that distribute the bags often get their formula for use in the hospital for free from manufacturers, a practice that contributes to unnecessary use of formula by breastfeeding mothers. Research consistently has shown that such use is one of the strongest predictors of early breastfeeding failure – which also results in an increase in formula sales. Due to loyalty to the pricey name-brands given in hospitals, even formula-feeding mothers end up paying far more to feed their infants than if they had bought store-brand formula.

Both Public Citizen and the organizations that spearheaded the Massachusetts campaign agree that banning the bags has nothing to do with a mother’s choice to use formula – it is about how that formula is marketed. Consumers always can contact the formula companies and get samples delivered straight to them, without using healthcare providers as an intermediary. 

More work remains to be done, according to breastfeeding advocates. “If all Massachusetts hospitals can eliminate this conflict of interest, all health providers can certainly follow suit,” said Dr. Melissa Bartick, chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. “We urge all professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, to cut financial ties with the formula industry in the interest of their patients.”

The voluntary campaign to ban the bags accelerated in 2006, after then-Gov. Mitt Romney forced the Department of Public Health to rescind a proposed regulation that would have required hospitals to stop acting as marketing venues for infant formula.

“Public Citizen commends Massachusetts’ hospitals, the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition and Ban the Bags for this important achievement,” said Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project. “We call on maternity hospitals across the country to follow suit by ending the marketing of infant formula to new moms. Healthcare facilities should offer evidence-based medical advice. They should not act as marketers for major food and pharmaceutical companies.”

To learn more about the Massachusetts effort, visit http://massbreastfeeding.org/ and http://www.banthebags.org. To read Public Citizen’s letter, view a complete list of hospitals that have received the letter and learn more about the organization’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in healthcare facilities, visit https://www.citizen.org/our-work/health-and-safety/infant-formula-marketing.