By Charlotte Hilton Anderson, REDBOOK
Let's be honest: The swag is one of the best things about having a baby-after the actual baby, of course. With my first son, friends threw me two baby showers, relatives handed down all their baby stuff, and my mailbox started to fill up with stuff from baby companies (I have no idea how they knew). There were coupons, of course, for all the things I didn't even know I needed (tiny nail clippers...what?), but even better were all the freebies. I got free magazines, books, baby DVDs and samples of everything from baby shampoo to diapers.
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I also got a bunch of formula. Even though I was planning on breastfeeding and didn't remember asking for them, whole cans of free formula just appeared on my doorstep.** At the time, I worked at a battered women's shelter so I just took them to work with me and donated them. Seeing as formula was always in short supply at the shelter, they went quickly.
But other people are not so sanguine about the idea of marketing formula through freebies given to pregnant women and new moms. A letter by consumer advocate group Public Citizen sent to over 2000 hospitals and companies specifically asks manufacturers to quit it. The letter reads: "Hospital promotion of infant formula through dissemination of these discharge bags contravenes this consensus, needlessly and inexcusably harming babies and families. Moreover, formula feeding imposes a significant burden on the nation's economy. Breastfeeding saves families and the economy countless dollars." Whoa.
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The letter goes on to cite a number of surveys and concludes, "New mothers who at first experience difficulty breastfeeding are apt to choose to use free formula samples given to them in discharge bags instead of seeking out assistance with breastfeeding." I agree wholeheartedly that "breast is best." I received a ton of freebies for my babies, but they didn't deter me from breastfeeding them. I'll admit that all the product placement in the "diaper bag" given to me by my OB/GYN felt a little crass, but then again nearly everything I got from the hospital was branded with something. Plus, when you need a binky in the middle of the night, who cares how it magically got there?
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I think Public Citizen needs to give moms more credit. Yes, we're tired and leaky and vulnerable targets for slick marketing, but we're still capable of knowing what our babies need. If you want to encourage more moms to breastfeed, make lactation support (and new mother support in general) more readily available.
What did you think about all the free stuff given to you in the hospital? Do you agree with the proposed ban?
**If you don't personally need the formula, consider donating the unopened, unexpired cans to a local shelter. Believe me, concerns about invasive marketing are secondary when you are hungry.
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