More Hospitals Stop Recommending Formula

To help encourage breastfeeding, more U.S. hospitals are thinking twice about distributing free samples of formula to new parents. Here's why this is good news.

More Hospitals Stop Recommending Formula Luca Elvira/Shutterstock

When parents leave the hospital with their newborn they're embarking on an adventure of countless firsts. For many, that means learning how to breastfeed with confidence. And now, even more hospitals are on board with helping new moms navigate the frequently challenging waters of nursing.

According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, the commonplace hospital practice of providing new moms with infant formula packs has been significantly declining recently—from 73% in 2007 to 32% in 2013.

Formula: Less is more

For scientists like Jennifer Nelson, MD, MPH, lead author and an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this decline is great news. "It reflects hospitals striving to provide optimal maternity care for the breastfeeding mother and her newborn," she told

The reason for the dip in formula hand-outs could have to do with more institutions taking part in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative—a World Health Organization effort aimed specifically at promoting breastfeeding by helping mothers initiate it within one hour of birth: showing them how to maintain lactation even when separated from their infants, encouraging breastfeeding on demand, and not allowing pacifiers or artificial nipples in the first few weeks (after that, pacifiers are recommended to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

That being said, about one-third of hospitals still send fresh-from-labor-and-delivery parents home with formula packs full of samples, coupons and advertising material, thereby lowering their chances of breastfeeding success. Simply being handed a bag with formula paraphernalia seems to send a message that supplementing breast milk is to be expected and it gives moms an easy out if they're having any difficulty nursing.

This isn't good considering the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends that women give their infants breast milk exclusively for the first six months. Despite that recommendation, less than 20% of American moms actually follow through with it.

Breastfeed or bust: Don't give up

While breastfeeding can be one of the toughest parts about being a new parent, it should be encouraged as much as possible. It not only benefits the baby (in the form of fewer infectious diseases, ear infections, and diarrhea), and mom (lowering her risk of breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum bleeding), but it's good for family bonding as a whole and the most eco-friendly way to feed.

Of course, many women have difficulty breastfeeding in those first critical days of their newborn's life (and some women will never be able to, for whom formula might be the only choice). In those cases, lactation consultants can help provide information and support. To that end, it's smart to ask your hospital ahead of time what type of breastfeeding education and services are available postpartum and how you can best take advantage of them both in the hours immediately after delivery and once you've settled in at home. "These [should] include practices such as placing babies immediately skin-to-skin after birth, keeping mothers and babies together throughout the hospital stay, and not supplementing breastfeeding babies with infant formula, unless there is a medical need," Nelson says.

"Mothers experiencing breastfeeding problems after discharge can seek advice from the hospital, their health care providers—pediatrician, obstetrician—or other community lactation support services," Nelson adds. "These professionals can help address early breastfeeding problems."