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The small state of Delaware has taken a big step toward promoting breastfeeding among mothers, but not everyone agrees with the approach. The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services announced the state's hospitals may no longer give new moms gift bags that include formula.
Health officials and breastfeeding advocates argue the free cans of formula amount to a medical endorsement of formula and that making formula so easily available undermines breastfeeding during the often difficult and early days with a newborn.
The state's move is the latest in a "ban the bags" campaign that started more than a decade ago as an effort to support and encourage more women to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is free, provides nutrition and health benefits that milk formula cannot and has been shown in some studies to reduce the breastfeeding mother's risk for obesity and some cancers.
Critics of ban the bags say the emphasis on breastfeeding creates a split between mothers, those who breastfeed and those who don't. They say breastfeeding is unrealistic for a significant number of new moms: Either there's some physical complication or their workplace can't support it.
According to the Affordable Care Act, companies are required to give nursing breaks for pumping breastmilk. In the case of Delaware, the governor recently signed a provision giving nursing and pumping moms even more frequent breaks, a space for pumping and time off to recover from birth.
"Eliminating formula gift bags is part of a public health milestone," Health Secretary Rita Landgraf said at a press conference Thursday at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Dover, Delaware. "It's not meant to pass judgment."
Ban the bags is a national campaign organized to stop formula company marketing in maternity hospitals.