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CDC wants end to infant formula gifts

Associated Press / September 26, 2011

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CHICAGO - The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is concerned that hospitals’ gifts of baby formula to new mothers could be undermining women’s determination to breast-feed.

“Hospitals need to greatly improve practices to support mothers who want to breast-feed,’’ Dr. Thomas Frieden said last month in releasing a CDC report on breast-feeding. It showed that less than 5 percent of US infants are born in “baby-friendly’’ hospitals that fully support breast-feeding, and that 1 in 4 infants receive formula within hours of birth.

Routinely offering new moms free formula was among practices the CDC wants to end.

A 2010 study of 1,239 hospitals suggests that the practice has decreased in hospitals, but most - 72 percent - still offered formula. That study was released today in Pediatrics.

A larger nationwide study of more than 3,000 US hospitals and maternity centers published last year in the Journal of Human Lactation found that 91 percent sent new mothers home with free formula in 2006-07.

“ I don’t think hospitals should be marketing a product that is nutritionally inferior to breast milk,’’ said study author Anne Merewood, a professor at Boston University medical school and editor of the Journal of Human Lactation.

Some activists, though, said the move to end formula freebies is part of a breast-feeding movement that has gone too far, overstating the benefits and creating guilt in new mothers who have difficulty nursing or just choose not to.

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