Through the hard work and dedication of many hospital employees throughout the state, and the gentle insistence of our Health Department, Rhode Island became the first “Bag Free” state in the nation. I realize it is old news by now, but for those who don’t know, this means “women who give birth in Rhode Island will no longer receive infant formula marketing packs when they head home from the hospital.”(www.banthebags.org) In an event held at the State House on November 28, 2012 Rhode Island’s First Lady, Stephanie Chafee, Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Roberts, RI Department of Health Director, Michael Fine, and Marsha Walker from the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition’s Ban the Bags campaign all celebrated this achievement and “spoke of their commitment to breastfeeding families and their support of the hospitals’ efforts in this giant step forward in removing the commercial barriers to breastfeeding.”(www.banthebags.org)
I think that most everyone who heard about this knew that it was a good thing for the health of babies in our state. Some weren’t happy about it, but I really don’t think they understood what it means. And let me be clear: it does not mean that mothers will not be able to receive formula in the hospital if they choose not to breastfeed. The hospitals will still have formula, and will still provide it for your child if you want it. What they will no longer do, is routinely give out discharge packs with free formula to mothers as they leave the hospital. Dr. Melissa Bartick, a Boston MD, wrote in a very public debate with MA Governor Mitt Romney that giving formula samples to new mothers was akin to giving Big Macs to patients on a cardiac floor. As Marsha Walker has said many times, “Hospitals should market health, and nothing else.” When nurses send new mothers home with a bag of free formula, it is an implied endorsement of that product. “State health officials noted that studies link these giveaways to decreased breastfeeding rates, which is not in keeping with their efforts to promote optimal health for mothers and infants in Rhode Island.”(www.banthebags.org)
We all know the benefits of breastfeeding. This information has been well promoted among the public health community for years. But “because breastfeeding is the gold standard infant nutrition that provides optimal healt
h for both mothers and infants, lactation experts have recently shifted to describing the risks of formula feeding rather than the benefits of breastfeeding. For mothers, not breastfeeding is associated with an increased risk of post-partum blood loss, post-partum depression, and ovarian and breast cancer when compared with women who do breastfeed. For children, risks of formula feeding include an increased incidence and severity of a wide range of infectious diseases as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and obesity.” (MacNamara et al, 2012) When framed that way, doesn’t it make sense not to promote an unhealthy behavior? Especially in a hospital, where we really have the opportunity to help mothers get off to a great start establishing healthy habits with their baby!
So our tiny little state has really done a big thing for families who deliver their babies here. Next on our agenda: having Rhode Island become the first state in the nation with all birthing hospitals designated as Baby Friendly. “The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding. The BFHI assists hospitals in giving mothers the information, confidence, and skills needed to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.”(www.babyfriendlyusa.org) Currently in Rhode Island, Newport, South County and Westerly hospitals have all achieved this status. Throughout the world, the majority of hospitals are Baby Friendly. It is only here in the USA, which is so heavily influenced by the business of formula marketing, that Baby Friendly hospitals are in the minority. Interested in helping to make this happen? Contact your local hospital and ask that they do everything they can to achieve this designation and deliver only at a hospital that has it. Consider joining the Rhode Island Breastfeeding Coalition (RIBC) and joining our advocacy efforts. You can read more about this wonderful organization and ways to get involved at the following link: www.health.ri.gov/partners/coalitions/breastfeeding. We hope that you will join us!