Letter: Samples discourage breast-feeding

As the Advocate noted in its article, “Two local hospitals join effort to promote breast-feeding,” (Dec. 9), hospitals in the state and nationwide are adopting breast-feeding support policies to improve mother and baby health.

But too many Louisiana hospitals and doctors’ offices are still co-opted by infant formula companies to promote their products, undermining breast-feeding goals. These lagging hospitals still hand out infant formula samples and other formula promotional materials to moms when they leave the hospital, regardless of whether they intend to breast-feed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically recommends that Louisiana hospitals stop promoting formula. There is abundant evidence that these free samples contribute to premature breast-feeding discontinuation. Health care experts agree that women should breast-feed exclusively for six months, so in-hospital formula promotion imposes costs on families in doctor’s visits for sicker babies and expensive brand-name formulas.

Fortunately, a new report shows that 82 percent of the U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals have ended commercial bag distribution at discharge, along with more than two-thirds of leading hospitals in gynecological care. At least 13 hospitals in Louisiana — most of them highly ranked — have completely eliminated formula bags and samples and others limit their distribution to formula feeding mothers. However, many hospitals still need to catch up and adopt the best practice of eliminating formula samples. Louisiana’s mothers and babies deserve better.

Dr. Betsy M. LeRoy

chair, Louisiana Breastfeeding Coalition