In 2005, the Massachusetts Public Health Council instituted a statewide ban on giving out free formula, but then-Gov. Mitt Romney overturned the decision a few months later.
There are currently 600 hospitals in the US that have banned the free new-mommy swag bags given at discharge from the hospital – discharge bags full of everything from formula to diapers and other baby gear. Also, hospitals can receive a "baby friendly” accreditation, which was developed by WHO and UNICEF in 1991 and is administered in the US by Baby-Friendly USA.
There is not yet enough evidence to track the direct impact of these bans, says Marsha Walker, executive director of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA), who was involved in the legislative advocacy for the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. But she adds that there is an increased interest in hospitals providing lactation care services.
New York's first “baby friendly” hospital – Harlem Hospital – was where city officials announced the launch of the "Latch On NYC" program May 9. The initiative is aimed primarily at mothers who choose to breastfeed and helping them “to increase breastfeeding exclusivity and duration,” according to the Department of Health description.
Public health officials are calling on all New York hospitals to voluntarily commit to the initiative, which asks the institutions to enforce the New York State hospital regulation, effective since 2005, that breastfeeding infants not be given formula feedings unless by “a specific order by the attending practitioner or at the request of the mother.” The initiative also involves restricting nurses’ access to formula and developing a better tracking system for formula distribution. Hospitals will also agree to discontinue the distribution of free or promotional infant formula as well as prohibit displaying of formula promotional materials.
Hospitals run by New York’s Health and Hospital Corporation had already started banning gift bags and formula promotional materials in 2007. The current “Latch On NYC” campaign continues that trend as New York tries to increase exclusive breastfeeding for infants up to six months of age. Ninety-three percent of births in the city are at hospitals where breastfed infants are also given supplemental formula, according to the Department of Health.