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Formula firms’ freebies for new moms ruled out

BOSTON – New moms at hospitals in Massachusetts will no longer get gift diaper bags filled with baby formula and other freebies, thanks to state health officials intent on promoting breast-feeding.

The ban doesn’t bar hospitals from giving out free formula. But it ends a longtime marketing practice that breast-feeding advocates say was designed to turn harried new mothers toward a less healthy alternative – and implied an endorsement of formula by hospitals.

“There’s no free lunch and there’s no free gift,” said Beth Sargent, an independent lactation consultant from Needham.

“A gift is something given freely without the anticipation of a return. There is absolutely an anticipation of return.”

Some Massachusetts hospitals had already stopped the gift bags, but Donna Rheaume, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, said she believes it’s the first time a state has written such a ban into its hospital regulations.

Formula companies say their top priority is healthy mothers and babies, regardless of whether they breast-feed or use formula.

Gail Wood, a spokeswoman for Mead Johnson & Co., which makes Enfamil, called the ban “over the top,” intruding on the private choice about feeding a baby, which is made between mothers and their doctors.


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