Most new mothers are inundated with formula samples and coupons everywhere they turn. Signing up for those free baby magazines can automatically place your name on a mailing list that formula companies use to target new mothers. Several free cans will probably show up in the mail, and many hospitals give out free bags full of formula upon discharge. The latter violates the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative set for by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, so beware of any maternity ward that sends mothers home with formula bags.
Even mothers who plan to breastfeed may keep these samples hanging around “just in case,” but the mere presence of infant formula can sabotage even the most committed mother’s intention to nurse her baby. In the first few days of life, babies are designed to live on colostrum alone, but many mothers fear their babies’ are hungry. Because the mother’s milk may not have come in yet, she thinks she needs to formula feed and breaks into her free samples. On the contrary, the best she can do is to keep breastfeeding, which stimulates the milk supply. Some mothers are simply exhausted and stressed, and think that giving the baby a bottle, or two, or three, will help her get some sleep. An even better way to get some sleep is to learn side-laying nursing. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand system, and every bottle of formula the baby gets is one less feeding the mother’s body is told to make.
Soon, all that supplementing has caused the mother milk supply issues or plugged ducts, and the breastfeeding relationship is heading out the door. Not long after, the formula samples run out, and the parents find themselves gulping at the $23-$28 price tag of those cans of powdered formula. New babies go through approximately two cans of the powdered stuff per week, which quickly adds up to nearly $200 per month to feed the little bundle of joy. Formula companies do send new parents checks or coupons for huge discounts off infant formula, but only for the first few weeks. Before you know it, those checks stop showing up, leaving new parents to eat the full retail price of that formula.
At the end of the baby’s first year, the “free” formula samples have now cost the parents around $1,500 just in formula alone. If your town’s water is questionable, you will also need to buy nursery water. Because breastfeeding helps protect babies from illness and infection, we also must factor in the costs of any extra doctors visits or medicines the baby may need. It also takes time to mix bottles, along with washing and sterilizing them, which requires more time and energy than simply feeding baby straight from the tap.
After two children, I learned the hard way the very best thing I could do for the breastfeeding relationship was to reject any offers of “free formula” and remove all samples or coupons from the house. I found that if it was not there, I was not tempted to use it, and we worked out our nursing struggles by breastfeeding more, not less.
What was your experience with formula samples? Did you use them or throw them away, and how did it impact breastfeeding?