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Free baby formula samples at hospitals raise concern

Reuters Health, September 26, 2011

Company-sponsored infant formula samples are still the norm at many hospitals, although fewer are giving out the freebies now than in 2007, according to a new report. Experts worry that giving new moms the free samples could undermine official recommendations that they stick to breastfeeding until their baby is at least six months old. "If a hospital gives it out... the patient thinks it's the best thing for the baby," said Anne Merewood from Boston Medical Center, who worked on the new study. "The bottom line is that the hospitals are marketing for the formula industry." The free samples typically come in diaper bags that maternity wards give out to moms when they leave the hospital. Sometimes those bags are funded by the hospital. But as research has shown, more often than not they're provided by formula companies. "The companies have an incentive to give as much away early on, because it kind of gets hospitals and mothers hooked on that," said Chessa Lutter, regional advisor on food and nutrition for the Pan American Health Organization, part of the World Health Organization.