Latch On NYC Levels the Playing Field from Formula Marketing

Sept 23, 2012—This month, New York City hospitals starts implementing their voluntary breastfeeding initiative, Latch On NYC.  Earlier this summer, Latch On NYC hit news and blogs all over the country, with many Americans objecting to the requirement of participating hospitals to track their inventories of infant formula, as they do with medications. Some commentators thought this move unnecessarily “punished” formula feeding mothers, and likened the move to locking up narcotics.

But most commentators do not realize that requiring hospitals to “lock up” formula simply means formula will no longer get special treatment, and will simply be treated the same way as everything else.  As Dr. Melissa Bartick, a co-founder of Ban the Bags, told Time in August, “Hospitals lock up just about everything from Band-Aids to gauze. The question we should be asking is why aren’t they locking up formula? The reason is because they get it for free.” Bartick added, “I can’t even get an alcohol wipe without swiping my badge.”

Free formula is marketing genius: Flood maternity units with your brand and sales skyrocket. Why? For several reasons: For breastfeeding moms, using formula without a medical reason is one of the biggest predictors of breastfeeding failure. Many new moms don’t realize that even a couple bottles early on can greatly interfere with their ability to ramp up their milk supply and may interfere with their infant’s ability to learn how to breastfeed properly. A vicious cycle ensues, where the infant gets more and more formula as the mother’s body produces less and less milk. Before long, she’s got no milk left, and is committed to buying formula for the rest of the infant’s first year. CDC data show that 60% of breastfeeding moms do not meet their own breastfeeding goals.

The other reason sales skyrocket is because of brand loyalty. Numerous research has shown that parents are very likely to stick to the brand of formula they started in the hospital. Parents know that babies often don’t tolerate some brands of formula well, so if they find one that works, they are wisely hesitant to change.  The problem is, these name brand formulas cost a family at least $700 a year more than store brand.

Abundant free samples of name-brand formula hurts all mothers. Formula companies take advantage of the good will of the hospital staff, who may genuinely believe they are helping a new mom by packing her up with free samples.

But even the smartest nurses and doctors are likely being duped by the formula industry. The following quote surfaced from the employee manual from Ross, the makers of Similac, during a 1995 court case:

“Never underestimate the importance of nurses. If they are sold and serviced properly, they can be strong allies. A nurse who supports Ross is like an extra salesperson.”  (Abbott Labs v. Segura, 1995)

Free formula is just one of the many Booby Traps hitting breastfeeding mothers, according breast-feeding advocacy group Best for Babes. The idea of tracking formula is not a new one. It is endorsed by the US Breastfeeding Committee in its Joint Commission Toolkit,.  Ninety percent of NY City mothers want to breastfeed. The new initiative is designed to help them succeed– without being undermined by industry interference.

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