Consumer and health advocacy groups petition U.S. hospitals and manufacturers to end practice of offering free baby formula to new mothers, saying such giveaways discourage breastfeeding

LOS ANGELES , April 11, 2012 () – Consumer and health advocacy groups sent a letter to more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals urging them to end the practice of offering free baby formula to new mothers, Reuters reported April 9.

The letter, which was also sent to infant formula manufacturers including Abbott Laboratories, Nestle SA and Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., said the giveaways discouraged breastfeeding.

Advocacy group Public Citizen sent the letter as part of a renewed push to increase breastfeeding rates in the U.S. American health officials want to increase the number of 6-month-old infants that are fed exclusively on breast milk to roughly 26% by 2020, up from 14% currently.

Both hospitals and baby food manufacturers are defending the free baby formula samples and say that the giveaways help meet the needs of both women and infants.

According to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, roughly 66% of hospitals give mothers free infant formula, less than the nearly 73% that did so in 2007.

The World Health Organization said that breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are going up, partially due to changes in hospital policy that allow mothers to keep their babies in their hospital room with them. An increasing number of hospitals have also begun offering breastfeeding support.

Generally, the free infant formula giveaway is offered as part of a tote bag sponsored by the formula company that includes other items including diapers and pamphlets. Sometimes, samples and coupons for infant formula are also mailed directly to new parents’ homes.

The U.S. infant formula industry is worth US$4 billion.

The primary source of this article is Reuters, London, England, on April 9, 2012.

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