February 18, 2013

Nursing numbers reflect economic gap

Low-income Mainers are likely to choose formula despite much-touted breast-feeding benefits.

By BEN McCANNA Morning Sentinel

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Thomasina Hutchins feeds Eva, 3 months, both breast milk and formula, but says she can understand a “nervous nursing mom” caving to using only formula.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Babies born prematurely may lack the ability to suckle, or they may be separated from their mothers during extended medical care. Older babies are generally extra hungry during growth spurts and can make mothers feel "like they don't get a moment's break," Pinette said.

Sleep is also a factor. Breast-feeding babies nurse every two to three hours, while formula-fed babies eat every four or five hours, which can lead to longer periods of uninterrupted sleep.

Returning to work after maternity leave causes many mothers to switch to formula.

The early days of breast-feeding can be especially difficult. Latching on can be painful for the mother. There's a possibility of infections, blisters and bites. Also, milk production doesn't begin in earnest for about five days after delivery, so dehydration and weight loss are common in newborns. Babies also may cry a lot during this period, which can drive some mothers to try formula, Pinette said.

"Breast-feeding takes tremendous emotional maturity and commitment by the mom," Pinette said. "If you get past the first six to eight weeks, most moms are really successful."


Within days of arriving home from the hospital, many new mothers discover hefty packages on their doorsteps.

Often unsolicited, the packages are filled with baby formula, bottles and coupons. A 2-pound box from Similac, for instance, holds two tubs of powdered formula, a 4-ounce baby bottle and $20 worth of store coupons for any Similac formula product. Enfamil sends similar packages.

State officials, health-care workers and mothers aren't sure how the formula companies obtain names and addresses of new mothers, and some wonder whether the packages undermine efforts to improve breast-feeding rates.

Michelle Trask of Augusta is a mother of four. Shortly after her first child was born, she received an unsolicited sample of baby formula through the mail.

Trask, now 33, was planning to try breast-feeding, but wasn't entirely sure. "As soon as things started to get difficult, I hit the samples I had," she recalled.

Trask's first two children were formula-fed, but her third child flatly refused to feed from a bottle, so she switched to breast-feeding. At first it was challenging, but it got easier. When she had her fourth child in July, there was no question that she would breast-feed.

"It's so much easier for me in the night. I don't have to wake up to make formula," Trask said, "and it's so much more cost-effective, obviously."

Trask occasionally receives samples in the mail, which she gives to a friend who supplements breast-feeding with formula. But she wonders whether some new moms might give up on breast-feeding when a free package of formula arrives.

"The first two weeks are always rough," she said of breast-feeding. "If a mom isn't very committed, then it (a sample package) could be enough to sway someone."

Thomasina Hutchins, 33, a mother of four in Winthrop, used to receive formula in the mail, but hasn't since the birth of her youngest child 3 months ago. She's not sure how she got on a mailing list before or why she isn't now, but she receives occasional packages from her friend Trask.

Hutchins said the free packages couldn't have swayed her.

"I was pretty confident that I was going to breast-feed," she said. "But if I were a nervous nursing mom or not completely comfortable with it, and I see that bottle of formula sitting there, one night when I'm having trouble feeding my baby, it would be a lot easier to just pick up the formula and give up breast-feeding."


The WHO and UNICEF have ardently opposed any marketing of baby formula.

A 2001 report from WHO states that "infant formula should not be marketed or distributed in any environment that may interfere with the protection and promotion of breast-feeding." A 2011 report from UNICEF calls for communities and health services to "counter the formula marketing with strong protection of breast-feeding."

Christopher Perille, spokesman for Enfamil's parent company, Mead Johnson, said the formula makers strive to create the healthiest possible product.

"Given the acknowledged benefits received by children who breast-feed, our research and development efforts are focused on making our infant formulas as close to breast milk as possible," he wrote in an email.

Perille said the company obtains most of its mailing addresses directly from mothers and referrals by friends and family.

Lindsy Delco, a representative of Similac's parent company, Abbott Nutrition, wouldn't say how mailing lists are gathered.

"It is sensitive information we wouldn't want our competitors to know," she wrote in an email.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling contributed to this report.

Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:



Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)