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Breast is Best? An Ongoing Saga

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March 26th, 2008

By Guest Blogger Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

An interesting—sobering—study from the American Journal of Public Health was reported upon in the New York Times that revealed how the veneer of being pro-breastfeeding from the infant formula companies—the “in-favor” part is the pro-breastfeeding literature in the “gift bag” sent home with new mothers from the hospital—turns out to be flimsy at best. These gift bags still undermine breastfeeding.

How so? Alongside those packets of information are sample packets of formula. According to the article: “The care packages had a dramatic impact on patterns of breastfeeding. Women who received the packs were 39 percent more likely to stop exclusive breastfeeding at 10 weeks or sooner than those who didn’t receive free formula.” This longstanding marketing technique implies hospital and staff endorsement of infant formula, the study’s authors say. “Commercial hospital discharge pack distribution should be reconsidered in light of its negative impact on exclusive breastfeeding.’’

I guess the analogies are vending machines with junk food in schools: access can be endorsement.

It’s critical to add, though, even if left unmentioned in the Times’ article, that many women must return to work within ten weeks and that fact may have something (everything?) to do with working women having to stop breastfeeding exclusively (or at all). Still, studies linking the formula companies to this practice of undermining breastfeeding are critical, especially if the information fans out to into corporate media. And by the way, the comments section to this story is long, but worth skimming through; discussion meanders all over the place, filling in some important points, debating those points at times well and at times with discordance but the tone, too, is worth noting because women (and it turns out among New York Times readers at least, men) take these issues very seriously.

Guest Blogger Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a regular contributor to Mothers Movement Online and has a monthly column at NPR’s Justice Talking blog as well as writing for many other publications. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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