If you have given birth in a US hospital then you probably received a gift bag full of formula samples and other bottle feeding supplies upon your departure. I was offered it with both of my babies in 2012 and 2013.
Sure, the first time I thought it was great. Who doesn't like free stuff? My baby even received formula in the NICU and I thought I might need it.
The second time around I knew better and declined. Hospitals have been giving out these bags of formula for years. They usually contain a cute bag or cooler with samples of formula and coupons for the most expensive formula brands on the market. They also contain supposedly helpful tips for feeding, which usually push parents towards formula feeding and undermine breastfeeding.
Please be aware this is not the hospital recommending formula feeding over breastfeeding. This is a marketing technique by formula companies and it's sneaky. Giving these samples away at the hospital makes it seem as if the hospital approves it and again it undermines breastfeeding. Giving these bags away is a violation of the WHO International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
A few states have banned formula bags and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is working to have all US hospitals improve infant feeding policies, including the ban of formula bags as gifts.
What would you include in a breastfeeding support bag?
I can think of a few ideas to start. My sample bag would include nursing pads and nipple cream at the minimum, and perhaps a sleep nursing bra (just something for getting started).
A cooler is almost always given with the formula bags so why not package it all in a cooler or reusable bag of some sort. A breastfeeding mother can still use coolers and bags. And of course include a list of breastfeeding resources such as the phone number of the local La Leche League and listings to find a lactation consultant easily. I would also include latching and breastfeeding positioning tips.
If we wanted to make the bag extra fancy we could include a nursing tank or maybe a hand pump. Every woman will not pump but a hand pump can be helpful for relieving occasional engorgement.
Whatever we include in our breastfeeding bag it would be much more helpful than the current formula bags. Isn't time we catch up to current health recommendations? It's recommend to breastfeed by every governing body and multiple organizations including WomensHealth.gov, United States Breastfeeding Committee, WHO, Unicef, AAP, and the CDC but our hospitals send us home with bags of formula which sends the message that this is the recommend feeding choice.
Critics of taking away the bags insist that they help women who may not be able to afford formula by providing samples and coupons but this is ridiculous. Formula costs over 1k - 3k a year and a few days worth of samples will not change this. If you are sure you are going to formula feed you can always contact the company ahead of time and request samples. I am not anti formula and there are instances where it is a great tool for mothers who need it. I am not recommending taking it away, I am recommending changes so we do not undermine breastfeeding for a new mother before it even has a chance to be established.
I can speak of my personal experience, when I was sent home with a bag of formula with my first baby I used it the first night home. Yes, I gave her formula in a moment of desperation to stop her crying. She had been in the NICU, received formula, and I figured it would not hurt. I did not quite understand breastfeeding yet, or how supplementing could ruin our chances for breastfeeding success. Sure, I know better now but most new mothers coming home with a bag of formula do not. What a smart marketing tactic by formula companies. It would be nice if hospitals would at least give women a chance to combat it by providing breastfeeding supplies rather than formula supplies. Progress is being made but not quickly enough!
Please let me know your thoughts! What would you include in a breastfeeding support bag?