DALLAS — If one-day-old Vivian Clark is to become an athlete, as her parents dream, she'll need the healthiest start possible.
New mom Jessica Clark knows breastfeeding is best, but admits that using formula instead is a temptation.
"At four o'clock in the morning when she's crying, screaming, that [formula] would be a better option to switch over real quick," she conceded.
That explanation is one reason why Public Citizen sent a letter to hundreds of hospitals, urging them to "immediately discontinue the distribution of commercial infant formula."
Public Citizen also claims medical centers that give formula samples are violating a World Health Organization code that prohibits health care facilities from marketing infant formula.
An estimated two-thirds of hospitals offer free formula samples to new mothers. Facilities that do say it's a convenient and inexpensive way to see which formula a baby might like.
Public Citizen's Elizabeth Ben-Ishai said giving out formula is unethical marketing and contrary to good public health policy.
"That non-verbal message that moms get from recieving the formula samples tells them that the hospital is basically endorsing formula feeding, so it's really sort of a conflicting message, and we know that it does reinforce behavior," she said.
Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas quit giving formula samples years ago, for just that reason.
"Our job is not to promote for other companies," explained Baylor lactation consultant Kathy Chaney. "Our job is to promote what has been naturally given to the mom, which is breastfeeding."
"Breastfeeding's hard, I think, to begin with," Jessica Clark said. "So having that as our only option right now to feed baby kind of helps me keep going and keep stimulated to keep trying it, even if it is hard."