Are Hospitals That Give Out Free Formula Sabotaging Breastfeeding?

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Toronto's Medical Officer of Health has a message for Toronto hospitals: Stop giving out free formula.

According to a new study by Toronto Public Health, hospitals that provide free formula to new moms reduce the likelihood that women will exclusively breastfeed to six months. The study surveyed 1500 first-time mothers in 2007 and 2008, and found that 39 percent of mothers in the study were given formula at discharge. Women who didn't receive the free samples were 3.5 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively after 2 weeks.

The study, entitled "Breastfeeding In Toronto, Promoting Supportive Environments," found that although almost all new mothers tried breastfeeding in hospital, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only -- no formula) was only 63 percent by the time they were discharged from hospital. And the rate of exclusive breastfeeding dropped to only 17.5 percent, six months later.


Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health said that because of the proven nutritional and health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, the low rates are cause for concern. "There is room for significant improvement," he says.

Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, gastrointestinal, ear and respiratory infections during infancy, plus it reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity later in life.

Dr. McKeown wants Toronto hospitals to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates by becoming Baby-Friendly facilities (a World Health Organization designation). "This includes having a comprehensive breastfeeding policy, help for mothers to initiate breastfeeding within a half-hour of birth, and ensuring newborns are not given food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated."

Right now, the only hospital in the city that is designated Baby-Friendly is Toronto East General Hospital. Linda Young, director of maternal newborn and child health for that facility, told The Toronto Star that the impact of promoting formula as moms leave the hospital gives off mixed messages to new mothers.

"They give it to the women 'just in case'," she said. "But the real message is that you will probably fail... One bottle leads to another."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.