Sorry Lactivists, Formula Samples From The Hospital Aren’t The Problem

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new baby gift bagPersonally, I’m pretty proud of my breastfeeding record. When my daughter was born, I did tried very hard to breastfeed for the first six months. I was committed to giving my daughter the best I could, and I knew that meant nursing. When my milk supply was low, I followed literally every tip I could find. I would pump immediately after breastfeeding. I tried every natural remedy my pediatrician approved.

The main problem, according to the numerous lactation consultants I talked to, was that I had returned to work when my daughter was three weeks old. Even though I pumped while I worked, I simply couldn’t take enough pumping breaks to mimic how often my daughter would feed. As a result, my milk supply was always low.

Returning to work three weeks after giving birth wasn’t a choice I made because I was super dedicated to my job. I wish that I could’ve spent more time at home with my little one. But as a single mother who was trying to support a new daughter, I didn’t have a lot of options. Returning to work was a necessity. And it’s also part of the reason that I had to start using formula when my daughter was 3 months old and I just wasn’t providing enough breastmilk. I kept nursing for three more months, but I also supplemented so that my daughter was getting as much nutrition as she needed.

In my circumstance, I believe that a paid maternity leave would’ve helped me to breastfeed through the first year of my daughter’s life.

You wanna know what didn’t have any impact at all on whether or not I breastfed? Formula samples from the hospital. Yes, I’m sure that I got them. I’m pretty sure that the hospitals in my area still give them out to every new mother. And I know that breastfeeding supporters wish that they didn’t.

Last week in the New York Times, one op-ed contributor complained about “Maternity Ward Swag.” She thinks that hospitals should be refusing to give out formula samples that might entice new moms to start supplementing right away, instead of giving time for their breastmilk to come in.

The funniest thing about this piece is that the author admits, “The truth is that for many women in the United States, where paid maternity leave and workplace support for pumping are rare, and where breast-feeding in public is stigmatized, formula is the easier choice. Many don’t have the option to breast-feed as long or as much as they would like.” Her conclusion from this fact isn’t that we should support women who want to pump or fight for paid maternity leave. Instead, she wants to reduce the availability of formula, which is admittedly easier.

Am I the only one who thinks that this logic is a little backwards? Instead of making breastfeeding easier, we’ll just stop giving as much access to formula early on in hopes that people won’t resort to it? I’m sorry, but the formula samples aren’t the problem. Having a sample of Enfamil isn’t going to change the mind of a mother who is really committed to nursing. And if a woman has a hard enough time with breastfeeding, she’ll go out and buy the Similac herself.

Putting energy into removing free samples from hospitals is a waste for those who really want to promote breastfeeding. Focus on providing support for women who are struggling. Fight for better maternity care and policies, so that women can spend more time at home with their new ones. Put pressure on businesses to provide support for their nursing employees. By all means, fight to help mothers breastfeed. But worrying about samples of formula is misdirected anger.

Readers, what do you think? Are formula samples really the problem here?


  1. Andrea

    May 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    By all means, let a child scream in hunger before you give them formula.
    *eye roll*

  2. Katia

    May 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    In Canada we get a year of “employment insurance” paid for by the govt. it is no more than 55% of your income. Some employers top up by choice, some don’t. I can’t imagine a law that requires employers to pay women when they are not working … It doesnt seem very capitalist. There is a lot of talk about a desire for more maternity leave in the us, just wondering if ppl expect the govt or employer to pay for it? Or just guaranteed job still there for you after the year. Either way I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. It’s probably best to put your career on hold and stay home and find another way to supplement your income. Bf is easy enough but pumping is an awful lot to go thru unless you really really love your job.
    Regarding formula samples in the hospital, I get that in your personal experience it was 100% not a factor to eventually using some formula, but not every mom has your maturity and education. Think teen moms, immigrants, etc. and it’s just wrong for formula companies to be in something as essential as a hospital.

  3. Nicole

    May 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I didn’t want to breastfeed. It was MY choice. It had nothing to do with my job or formula samples. In fact, I greatly appreciated the samples, it saved me a few bucks. wasn’t feminism about choice?

  4. CW

    May 12, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Absolutely we should have at least six months’ and preferably a year’s worth of paid maternity leave. IMHO this issue should be the #1 priority of feminists. We women may not be able to agree with each other on the “hot button” issues related to sexual morality, but we should ALL be able to get behind paid maternity leave for new moms.

    • MAR

      May 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      Why should an employer be obligated to pay you not to be at work? Co-workers are already bearing your workload while away. Having a kid is a choice. It would be great if I could get months long paid time off for other choices I make in my life, but that’s not the way it works. Save your money and use your time off before you make the choice to have a child. If you want longer time, maybe working at that point in time isn’t for you.

    • Andrea

      May 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

      And MAR just explained exactly what is wrong with America today.

    • CW

      May 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

      So you think it’s GOOD for infants to spend 45+ hours per week in an institutional setting? How much are we as a society already spending on the indirect costs of having young babies grow up in daycare?

    • Andrea

      May 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      CW: I am not sure if you responded to MAR or myself, but for the record I completely agree with you. I think it is positively SHAMEFUL the way we treat new mothers in this country.

    • MAR

      May 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Who said their needs to be daycare? That is also a choice you make. If you don’t want your kids in daycare, find a home setting, family member, spouse, or stay home. If you dont want kids in institutionalized daycare and cant afford not to work….dont have kids. Why do we parents feel this entitlement? Why should an employer be paying you a years salary to not be at work? That’s a pretty hefty sum for some working mothers. What makes this choice different from any others? I’d like to choose to take a year off and travel Europe with my kids and spouse, get paid for it, and have a job to come back to, but I don’t think my firm would be very accepting of that.

    • CW

      May 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Because of the high cost of basics today, many families cannot afford for a parent to take an unpaid maternity leave of more than a few weeks. It is in society’s best interests to have women continue to reproduce at higher than replacement fertility rate AND for them to be raising their babies themselves rather than sticking them in daycare or with some babysitter (99% of whom in my observation ignore the child to yak on their cell phone or with other nannies). We’re paying for the results of this horrible situation now whether we acknowledge it or not.

    • Laura

      May 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

      That might be the case for some women, but not for all. There is no way in hell that I would take a full year off from my job. Never, ever, ever. It would be an emotional disaster for myself and in turn for my child. I enjoy being my child’s mother but at the same time, I went stir crazy while on maternity leave for 10 weeks. I am a better mother to my daughter when I go to work during the day. THAT’S what feminism is about – choice. Choice to go to work and choice to stay home. Choice to breastfeed or choice to formula feed. All the while free from judgment.

    • MAR

      May 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      If you are stuck on women “raising their babies themselves” then 6 months to a year’s worth of paid maternity leave isn’t going to cut it. Why not 5 years until the child is in Kindergarten? Heck, why not let you take 18 years off – paid, mind you – to home school your kids and keep them out of the “institutionalized” school setting. Where does it stop? And why should an EMPLOYER be subsidizing your choices? Perhaps parents should be paying more in taxes and having the government subsidize their lifestyles and life choices?

      If your career CHOICE doesn’t give you paid maternity leave, and you CHOOSE to have kids anyway without having SAVED up enough money to care for the basics during maternity leave, then you have made the CHOICE to go back to work.

      No one said you must have children. No one said you have to work. If you do, at least have the forethought to save money before having them.

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