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DHS news release


Feb. 12, 2008


General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282

Program contact: Ken Rosenberg, M.D., 971-673-0237


Study shows association between free infant formula and reduced breastfeeding



Providing free infant formula to breastfeeding mothers upon hospital discharge leads women to stop nursing their babies sooner than they had planned, according to a new study from the Oregon Department of Human Services. 


Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for infants, with documented benefits such as reduced risk of infectious disease, respiratory infections, allergies and chronic disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively fed breast milk, which means no other liquids or solids, for the first six months of life.


“If hospitals stop giving out free formula to women who are breastfeeding, they will breastfeed for a longer period of time.” said Ken Rosenberg, M.D., medical epidemiologist in the DHS Public Health Division and lead researcher of the study, which looked at the association between free formula discharge packs and exclusive breastfeeding duration.


Public health researchers analyzed survey responses from 2,684 new mothers. Almost 67 percent said they were breastfeeding at the time they left the hospital and were still given a free discharge pack containing infant formula. Further exploration of the data showed the women who received the free formula breastfed for a shorter time period than women who went home without a formula gift pack.


“Most hospitals encourage breastfeeding and staff help new mothers learn how to breastfeed while they are there,” Rosenberg said. “Giving away free formula upon discharge presents a mixed message and undercuts the breastfeeding support that a new mother has just been given.”


Rosenberg said formula manufacturers have given free gift packs to hospitals for distribution to new mothers for more than 40 years. “The manufacturers have found this is an effective way to increase profits, because it encourages women to stop breastfeeding sooner than they had planned,” he said.


Last year Portland became the first city in the nation where no major hospitals give out free infant formula at discharge. Some other Oregon hospitals have also halted the practice. St. Charles Medical Centers in Bend and Redmond has also recently banned gift packs.


“As this issue gets more visibility, we hope even more hospitals will follow their example,” said Rosenberg. “This study clearly shows that free formula can undermine a mother’s confidence that she can successfully breastfeed.”


Oregon women are more likely to breastfeed their babies than women in other states, according to Rosenberg. However, Rosenberg noted that only 20 percent of Oregon women exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, placing Oregon third among all states behind only Washington and Alaska.


The study, “Infant Formula Marketing Through Hospitals: the Impact of Commercial Hospital Discharge Packs on Breastfeeding” is available from Dr. Ken Rosenberg at ken.d.rosenberg@state.or.us or 971-673-0237.


A list of hospitals that DHS knows do not give out free formula gift bags is attached.


DHS is aware that these Oregon hospitals do not distribute free formula upon discharge:

  • All Providence Hospitals
  • All Legacy Hospitals
  • Portland Adventist
  • OHSU Doernbecher Hospital
  • St. Charles Medical Center in Bend and Redmond

All four Oregon “Baby Friendly Hospitals”

  • Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, Clackamas, Oregon
  • PeaceHealth Nurse Midwifery Birth Center, Eugene, Oregon
  • Providence Medford Medical Center, Medford, Oregon
  • Three Rivers Community Hospital, Grants Pass, Oregon

(Nationwide there are 62 Baby-Friendly Hospitals. Further information about the Baby-Friendly initiative is on the Web at www.babyfriendlyusa​.org/eng/03.html.)