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Marketplace Morning Report

Breastfeeding’s in, freebie formula is out

Alisa Roth Jun 8, 2007
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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Which choice is better: breast milk or formula? Doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Doctors now attribute so many advantages to breast milk for babies, such as lowering the risk of ear infections, allergies and obesity. For mothers the positives include lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and helping drop that pregnancy weight. Now, New York City is trying to encourage nursing by discouraging formula feeding. Alisa Roth has the story.

ALISA ROTH: When Hilary Soltz Short delivered a baby boy at a private New York hospital this spring, the nurses handed her a bag to take home with her.

HILARY SOLTZ SHORT: It’s got 16 bottles of formula and one enormous bottle.

She guesses the supply would be enough to feed her baby formula for a week.

She hasn’t used it yet.

SOLTZ SHORT: But you’ll also notice I haven’t thrown it away. It’s sitting in the closet, just in case.

If she had delivered in a public hospital, she wouldn’t have gotten the formula. This year, New York City banned free formula samples in its public hospitals.

The city says at least 75 percent of new mothers in New York City are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital. But three months later, less than half are breastfeeding exclusively.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year. New York City says it would be happy with half that time.

Deborah Kaplan is responsible for maternal and infant health at New York City’s health department.

DEBORAH KAPLAN: We looked at what are the forces that are influencing this. One of the areas was the marketing and the incentives that were being provided through the formula companies in the hospitals.

Critics say one of the problems of this in-hospital marketing is the implicit message it sends new mothers.

Martha Walker is a lactation consultant. She’s active in Ban the Bags, a Boston-based campaign to get the formula freebies out of hospitals.

MARTHA WALKER: They are given a product that they think is sanctioned by the hospital, the physician and the nurse. They think that this must be good, this must be OK, and there must not be any problem with this.

Plus formula feeding is expensive. Walker estimates it costs about $2,000 a year to formula feed a new baby. Breastfeeding is free, and a breast-pump costs just $250.

Formula makers wouldn’t talk to me about this. A spokesperson for the industry mothers should have the right to choose what to feed their babies.

That doesn’t mean new mothers will leave the hospital empty-handed. New York City is developing a different version of the freebie bags for its public hospitals. It’ll include a cold pack for storing mother’s milk.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Which choice is better: breast milk or formula? Doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Doctors now attribute so many advantages to breast milk for babies, such as lowering the risk of ear infections, allergies and obesity. For mothers the positives include lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and helping drop that pregnancy weight. Now, New York City is trying to encourage nursing by discouraging formula feeding. Alisa Roth has the story.

ALISA ROTH: When Hilary Soltz Short delivered a baby boy at a private New York hospital this spring, the nurses handed her a bag to take home with her.

HILARY SOLTZ SHORT: It’s got 16 bottles of formula and one enormous bottle.

She guesses the supply would be enough to feed her baby formula for a week.

She hasn’t used it yet.

SOLTZ SHORT: But you’ll also notice I haven’t thrown it away. It’s sitting in the closet, just in case.

If she had delivered in a public hospital, she wouldn’t have gotten the formula. This year, New York City banned free formula samples in its public hospitals.

The city says at least 75 percent of new mothers in New York City are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital. But three months later, less than half are breastfeeding exclusively.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year. New York City says it would be happy with half that time.

Deborah Kaplan is responsible for maternal and infant health at New York City’s health department.

DEBORAH KAPLAN: We looked at what are the forces that are influencing this. One of the areas was the marketing and the incentives that were being provided through the formula companies in the hospitals.

Critics say one of the problems of this in-hospital marketing is the implicit message it sends new mothers.

Martha Walker is a lactation consultant. She’s active in Ban the Bags, a Boston-based campaign to get the formula freebies out of hospitals.

MARTHA WALKER: They are given a product that they think is sanctioned by the hospital, the physician and the nurse. They think that this must be good, this must be OK, and there must not be any problem with this.

Plus formula feeding is expensive. Walker estimates it costs about $2,000 a year to formula feed a new baby. Breastfeeding is free, and a breast-pump costs just $250.

Formula makers wouldn’t talk to me about this. A spokesperson for the industry mothers should have the right to choose what to feed their babies.

That doesn’t mean new mothers will leave the hospital empty-handed. New York City is developing a different version of the freebie bags for its public hospitals. It’ll include a cold pack for storing mother’s milk.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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