Infant formula gift bags no longer sent home by most Massachusetts hospitals

This week, Rhode Island became the first state to end the practice of sending new mothers home from the hospital with gift bags containing free infant formula. The state’s seven birthing hospitals banded together to announce the move, intended to encourage breastfeeding.

Massachusetts tried to stop the formula giveaways six years ago with an all-out ban instituted by the state’s Public Health Council, but that decision was overturned several months later by the state’s public health commissioner—under the direction of then Governor Mitt Romney.

State Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote told my colleague Steve Smith at the time that the prohibition was “probably a little bit too heavy-handed” and that the government wants to “educate [people] toward the benefits of breast-feeding, but we don’t absolutely eliminate the option for people to choose the alternative.”

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Have the political winds shifted enough in the new administration to put in place such a ban today?

“I don’t think it’s necessary since the vast majority of hospitals in the state no longer allow formula in the freebie bags,” said Dr. Lauren Smith, the public health department’s medical director. In the past few years, 39 birthing hospitals in the state decided to ban free formula, while nine still offer free formula samples to mothers who decide not to breastfeed.

The state has a rule prohibiting hospitals from offering free formula to breastfeeding mothers unless they specifically ask for it or their doctor prescribes it.

A Boston Medical Center study presented yesterday at the American Public Health Association meeting suggests that new mothers who are offered free infant formula samples by hospitals after giving birth tend to breast-feed for shorter periods of time. (Boston Medical Center is one of the hospitals that no longer offers free formula to women.)

Here’s the list of hospitals that have banned the free formula bags and a list of those that have kept the practice.

Massachusetts hospitals that have banned free formula bags:

• Berkshire Medical Center, Pittsfield

• Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston

• Boston Medical Center, Boston

• Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston

• Cambridge Birth Center, Cambridge

• Cambridge Hospital Campus, Cambridge

• Cape Cod Hospital, Hyannis

• Charlton Memorial Hospital, Fall River

• Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton

• Emerson Hospital, Concord

• Fairview Hospital, Great Barrington

• Falmouth Hospital, Falmouth

• Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield

• Good Samaritan Medical Center, Brockton

• Heywood Hospital , Gardner

• Holy Family Hospital, Methuen

• Jordan Hospital, Plymouth

• Lawrence General Hospital, Lawrence

• Lowell General Hospital, Lowell

• Mass. General Hospital, Boston

• Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, Melrose

• MetroWest Medical Center, Framingham

• Milford Regional Medical Center, Milford

• Morton Hospital and Medical Center, Taunton

• Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge

• Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Nantucket

• Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Newton

• North Shore Birth Center, Beverly

• Norwood Hospital, Norwood

• Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Boston

• Saint Vincent Hospital, Worcester

• Salem Hospital (North Shore Medical Center), Salem

• Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital, Brockton

• South Shore Hospital, South Weymouth

• St. Luke’s Hospital, New Bedford

• Sturdy Memorial Hospital, Attleboro

• Tufts Medical Center, Boston

• Tobey Hospital, Wareham

• Winchester Hospital, Winchester

Massachusetts hospitals that still distribute bags:

• Anna Jacques Hospital, Newburyport

• Bay State Medical Center, Springfield

• Beverly Hospital, Beverly

• Harrington Memorial Hospital, Southbridge

• Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke

• Mercy Medical Center, Springfield

• North Adams Regional Hospital, North Adams

• UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Leominster, Leominster

• UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester