Does A Free Can of Formula Really Benefit Anyone?

Just last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics approved a resolution that advised pediatricians not to provide formula company gift bags, coupons, and industry-authored handouts to the parents of newborns and infants in office and clinic settings.

In their rationale, they explained that: Research has demonstrated that the free distribution of commercial materials, such as formula samples, diaper bags, formula coupons, or other gifts via commercial infant formula marketing implicitly endorses formula feeding and creates the impression that clinicians favor formula feeding over breastfeeding, and research demonstrates that this activity decreases exclusivity and duration of breastfeeding.

Enfamil bag with free formulaSo, how does this really affect both breastfeeding moms and formula-feeding moms? 

Does a can of free formula really benefit anyone?

To answer this question, I had to combine my Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) training with my mom-who-had-to-use-formula opinion.  After much thought, my answer was a wholehearted NO!  I absolutely believe that free formula at the pediatrician office does not truly benefit either the breastfeeding mom nor the formula-feeding mom.


And here is why….


  1. As newly breastfeeding moms, we are constantly self-doubting our supplies and our capabilities to fully nourish our babies.  I mean, without a scale, we really don't have an accurate way of knowing how much our babies are taking from the breast.  When we receive a free can of formula from our pediatrician, it is as if that highly respected person in our community somewhat doubts our capabilities as well.  If this statement was untrue, then why do we have so many mothers in the United States who are not meeting their personal breastfeeding goals, even at three months postpartum?  


This thought was further substantiated when I brought up this AAP resolution during my most recent recording of The Boob Group radio show on Saturday.  The three panelists (breastfeeding mothers) said that they had never considered using formula until the free sample was staring them in the face during a growth spurt or during a particularly long cluster feeding session.  While all three moms decided not to use it, they claimed that it definitely was a consideration during these times when they were questioning whether their babies were getting everything they needed from their breasts.  Fortunately they were surrounded by breastfeeding-supportive friends and family to substantiate that they were doing a fantastic job at breastfeeding.

2. The Affordable Care Act, which will come into full effect on August 1, 2012, is requesting that American insurance companies cover lactation support (provided by an IBCLC).  What does this mean for the new mom?  This means that the Unites States government feels that breastfeeding is so important that it wants you to get all of the assistance you need to make it work, and will cover it under your insurance plan.  If struggling moms can have access to the breastfeeding help they need, then free formula is not super necessary at the pediatrician’s office

3. Formula marketing in breastfeeding pamphlets is not inadvertent.  The purpose is to advertise their formula products.  When pediatricians use breastfeeding pamphlets from breastfeeding-supportivecompanies, THEY are advertising that they are fully invested and supportive of breastfeeding and will do everything they can to help a mom meet her personal breastfeeding goals. Free pamphlets written on a formula company’s letterhead sends quite the opposite message. 

4. If formula is medically necessary (such as when a mom’s supply is not fully meeting her baby’s nutritional need and she doesn’t have donor milk), and free formula is not an option, then pediatricians may now be more willing to refer this mother to an IBCLC.  Without free formula, the parents are now fully responsible to go to the store, purchase the formula, and follow the pediatrician’s recommendations.  Instead, if these parents are under the care of an IBCLC, the baby will be fully monitored and the parents will be carefully instructed on how to use the formula AND protect the mother’s milk supply.  Also, the IBCLC will hopefully be able to identify the root of the breastfeeding challenge, rather than placing a Band-Aid (formula-supplementation without protecting mom’s milk supply) on the situation. 

5. If formula is needed or desired, it is readily available pretty much all hours day and night.  Lack of a free formula sample is not going to hinder a formula-feeding mom’s access to feeding her baby.   

6. If a mother chooses to formula feed her baby, then she is already purchasing formula from a store or online anyway.  The free container from the pediatrician is not going to make a substantial reduction in her formula budget, so it doesn’t really help her out either.

7. Check out when this policy is actually put into practice!  In 2009, the California WIC agency changed its formula-giving policy so that there was no routine issuance of formula in the first 30 days for breastfeeding infants and individual assessments of mother and baby were conducted for breastfeeding concerns and problems immediately postpartum and at the first postpartum visit.  Within 6 months after implementation of these changes, the rates of food packages for fully breastfeeding infants increased by a very impressive 86 percent. (WIC Works: Policy Changes Raise Breastfeeding Rates)


So, what do you think? 


I know, I know… Whoopi is definitely not going to LOVE this policy.  

This is the deal, though.... This resolution is not about discriminating against formula-feeding moms.  It is about removing a sabotaging element from breastfeeding mothers' lives.   Banning free formula and formula marketing in pediatricians' offices may truly help a few moms find the support they need to meet, and surpass, their personal breastfeeding goals.