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Essex Hospitals Tell Moms to Bring Their Own Formula if NOT Breastfeeding

Photo by Kelly SueBYO formula if you choose not to breastfeed in Chelmsford, UK

BYO formula if you choose not to breastfeed in Chelmsford, UK

Unlike many US hospitals and doctors that give out free samples of formula to new mothers, three Essex hospitals have adopted a policy intended to send the message “breast is best”.  Maternity wards in these hospitals will no longer provide formula.  Parents will have to bring their own.

This policy goes beyond simply eliminating the formula companies’ hospital gift bags that have “been identified as one factor that negatively impacts breastfeeding exclusivity and duration.”

Chelmsford Weekly News reports:

Denise Gray, lead midwife for infant feeding, said: “Breastfeeding helps women to bond with their babies.

“It is also well known that being breastfed as a baby reduces a person’s lifetime incidence of hospital admissions, infections and heart disease.”

The trust has organised new drop-in sessions and breastfeeding support groups. A spokesman for the trust said cash saved from not buying milk would be invested in these services.

I think this policy is great, especially since the money saved will be used for breastfeeding support. I am sure the hospital will not let any baby starve by strictly enforcing the policy, yet the message is clear that breastfeeding is the norm and what is expected if you deliver in these hospitals.


  1. I would hope that if a mother had a medical history that prohibited her from breast-feeding, the hospital would have a breast milk bank available. Failing that then have formula available for those situations.

    My mom worked in a medical lab and was exposed to blood and tested positive hepatitis. (Due to complicated story there is a high posibility that the first 2 test were errors) So she could not breast feed and breast milk banks weren’t available. When I was born a nurse asked her if she was a drug user. (She could have asked do you know how you contracted hepatitis.)

    She has been told by several busybodies that it is her fault that I have life threatening allergies. I had my first life threatening reaction within the first 2 hours of life. (I was allergic to the detergent used in the blanket). Somehow I don’t think I would have been cured by breast-feeding (less severe possibly). Women like my mom do NOT need more guilt trips. I hope the hospital takes that into condsideration.

  2. @Kimberly

    Thanks for sharing your story, and you are right, your mom made the best choice she could considering the situation.

    It is also a good point that a human milk bank should be part of this new policy.

  3. I would hope that if a mother had a medical history that prohibited her from breast-feeding, the hospital would have a breast milk bank available. Failing that then have formula available for those situations.

    Surely in that situation, the mother would know in advance and be able to bring her own formula!

  4. This is such a judgemental way of thinking. Who cares how a baby is fed as long as they are healthy and loved. Are they seriously making the stand that a baby who is not breastfed will not have a proper bond with their mother? Moms to be never know how breastfeeding is going to go when they give birth and who knows who will be needing formula to supplement. So they buy formula just in case? I highly doubt the hospitals actually have to pay for the formula since I am sure the formula companies are more than willing to donate formula for free advertising.

    I read the complete article that is partially quoted here and I just laughed at the following comment “Mrs Gray said mothers would be fully supported, whatever their choice, and milk formula would be kept at the units for clinical need. ” Really? I doubt it. If this hospital is so pro-breastfeeding I am sure they will be forcing their own point of view as often as they can on the mom.

  5. Maybe I am out of my league, being male, but I have watched my wife breast feed for the last 6 months now (our daughter was born in early february). It was far from easy, from getting the proper latch in the early days, to dealing with nipple pain, and continuing on to our daughter’s developmental age which makes her very distracted (hence pulling off the breast when turning her head which seems quite painful for my wife). What my wife says time and again is that had there been formula in the house, even that sample that we got from the hospital prior to switching to a home birth, that she would have likely broken down and used it. That would have only made breast feeding more difficult, and would have made it easier to just fall back on formula.

    Of course, Hilda, ultimately forming a strong bond with your baby is not dependent only on breast feeding. It is our belief–and there is strong evidence to support this (the above article for one)–that breast feeding does help form a strong bond and supports a more healthy immune system. Obviously breast feeding is not just about feeding your baby. There is skin-to-skin contact, close embrace, eye contact and hormonal exchanges that cannot be over-looked.

    Even as a a papa, who has only second hand experience with breast feeding, I ride a line between wanting to be understanding of formula feeding, and wanting to hold people accountable. Sure, there are real medical reasons why some mothers cannot breast feed. I am very sympathetic to that. However, it is upsetting to me, and my family to see people relying on formula when breast feeding is a most basic, most natural and most primordial connection between mother and baby. I feel that people don’t really give it an effort, and fall back on formula as a matter of convenience. We have some friends who gave up on breast feeding very early. Their response, when asked why, was, “He [their son] just didn’t like nursing.” Come on now! That is ridiculous. I know it is anything but easy. But, again, this is a basic biological thing. Have you seen videos of newborns going to the breast minutes after birth? These infants can barely see, have never seen a breast before, and yet they have a strong pull to find it and try to latch. Undeniable.

    Sadly, this falls in with a lot of the mainstream thinking: medicalized birth, formula feeding, disposable diapers, crying it out, etc. What are the real psychological and neurological affects on our children?

  6. I really don’t see anything wrong with asking moms to bring their own formula if they are CHOOSING NOT to breastfeed… after all, we are now asked to bring all the supplies we might need after baby is born – diapers, wipes, mother’s after-care items (I was even asked to supply my own peri-bottle) why shouldn’t they be expected to bring their own formula if that is how they are CHOOSING to feed their

    baby – why should they get it for free?

    I think mothers that choose to breastfeed should be offered free clinical/professional breastfeeding support until they overcome any challenges they are having after the birth then, instead of having to hire an LC at $50-100 per session. Maybe then there will be less that feel they have to turn to formula as their only option.

    If there is some sort of clinical reason after the baby is born why breastfeeding is not working (for mom or baby…) then I would hope that they would be supported appropriately.

    Assuming that they wouldn’t because they are following the Baby Friendly Initiative is being a little judgmental in itself, No?

  7. Well said Jeremy! I agree 100% with you! I am currently 8weeks pregnant and am planning on nursing. I’ve had women ( that I do not know ) tell me I have no idea about the pain associated with nursing. While they are somewhat correct, I do know the pain of losing a child at birth, having your milk come in and not being able to nurse. My milk stayed for 2 1/2 months after my daughter was stillborn at 40 weeks 3 days. I do feel that the hospital should have a supply of formula or human milk bank for premies (because depending on how early a baby is born Mama’s milk isn’t always there 100%) and for those when there is a complication with birth and the mother is not available to nurse.

  8. Nichole Williams says:

    I find it so interesting that people start in with the guilt trip stories about being unable to breastfeed whenever a pro breastfeeding article is written. Of course there are truly sick women, adoptive mothers or women who have had mastectomies who really are unable to breastfeed. I am sad for them, and I sympathize with them, I don’t judge them. However, these women are RARE. Most women who say they “can’t” didn’t look into their options. The reason why could be lack of support…so many women don’t have true knowledge of breastfeeding, get frustrated due to tongue ties and improper latches, offering bottles before milk supply is established, etc. I can’t tell you how many moms I know who gave up after a week…a frigging WeEK, and then go on to say “they couldn’t .” No, you didn’t try and you didn’t really want to. I KNOW it can be frustrating and that you want to sleep, but for heavens sake, it’s your baby! Why shouldn’t they have the best? Formula has its place, but it sadddens me that America has such abysmal breastfeeding rates. My son was born 9 weeks premature, spent 7 weeks in the NICU and I didn’t even put him to the breast til he was 3 weeks old. I pumped my heart out and he got only my milk the entire time. I am quite proud that I stuck through it and when he came home, he went straight to the breast and nursed til he was 14 monnths old. My daughter was also a preemie and spent 4 weeks in the NICU. She is 12 months old and still going strong. I overcame huge hurdles breastfeeding both my kids. It can be done. Educate, support, educate!!

  9. I’m a US expat living in London and was recently pregnant and under hospital care. They are so pro breastfeeding that they the word “formula” is like saying the “f” word in there. They had breast feeding posters all over the antenatal wing. It was refreshing after reading about all the formula bags hospitals give out.

  10. Hey. We have to bring our own boobs. It’s not a horrible idea.

    I never got breastpads or lanolin free.

  11. Tyann and Nicole: Obviously I agree with you both. It saddens me too. Parental intuition is truly fading, so we have to rely on self-education and surrounding ourselves with support (ie midwives, lactation consultants, friends and family with similar ideals, etc.). I think education is key with breastfeeding, and proper support. There are great books that my wife read…But there is also tons of free info on the web…And videos, such as Dr. Jack Newmans videos here: http://www.drjacknewman.com/video-clips.asp

    Two points about formula vs. breastfeeding:

    1 – formula will never be able to match breast milk no matter what the “formula” or fortification is, b/c breast milk is produced by a mother specifically for that child…And if we follow a whole-food approach to nutrition we know that breast milk is a whole food and not a sum of parts as formula is. Taking beta-carotene is NOT the same as eating a carrot!

    2- Formula is about feeding and nutrition. Nursing is about those things too, but (as I stated in my earlier comment), also about forming a strong bond, contact, loving and hormonal exchange, comfort and security.

  12. Hospitals in the US only provide formula for free because the companies provide them with samples. Like freaking drug pushers.

    If this formula cost the hospitals money you bet they would be telling people to bring their own or charge them through the nose for it.

  13. Interesting but I thought we were living in a free world where choices were the rights of an individual. I exclusively breast fed my children but in no manner do I think that I should enforce on others what I chose. If new mothers should be expected to bring their own formula don’t you think it only fair that new mothers provide their own breast feeding support/lactation help? I do not believe that we should be treating people with different opinions than our own as second class citizens. This disregard for free choice is horrifying!

  14. As far as I am aware, hospitals in the UK are not supplied with any formula for free; they have to purchase it.

    My first son (born 2.5 years ago) was intended to be breastfed, but it did not work out that way, and so I had to send my husband out to the shop to buy formula for our newborn while we were still in hospital.

    My second son (born 6 months ago) has been, and is still, exclusively breastfed. However, he did require three top ups of formula milk in his first 2 days because I did not make enough colostrum and his blood sugars dipped. Again, I had to send my husband to the shop.

    I believe Essex is in no way different to a lot of the UK in telling mothers to bring their own formula. Why should it be dished out for free?

  15. First of all, I agree that breastfeeding is best, and that ideally every baby would be breastfed. Second, I want to say that I am absolutely sure that this hospital will provide some form of nourishment to babies if neither breastmilk nor formula is provided by parents. Some mothers have every intention of breastfeeding, but simply can’t. Yes all midwives, doulas and breastfeeding coaches, some women CAN’T DO IT! Secondly, some babies cannot breastfeed. For example, babies in the NICU or with conditions such as cleft palate that make it extremely difficult and ineffective. When my son was born I had every intention of breastfeeding him; however, he was born with a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and was placed in the NICU for 7 days. I was unable to even hold him for 3 days. I did however pump and give the hospital my breastmilk to use, but I allowed them to mix in formula as well to supplement what I had given them as I was having a lot of trouble (probably because I was so stressed out). In situations such as these, or in any situation in which breastmilk is unavailable, the hospital has a responsibility to feed these babies. It can request that parents bring formula, but if parents choose not to for whatever reason, the hospital has a responsibility to feed the babies, whether it be formula or milk from a bank. I’m not saying it will be free, but it has to feed all patients. Obviously the hospital knows this so I’m sure it has a system in place to protect its butt. This article is a little misleading I think.


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