So here's the story: Today I received two parcels from Similac (owned by Abbot Laboratories) of free formula - each parcel had 2 cans, 8 oz. each, one milk-based and one soy-based, of Similac formula. I received 2 identical parcels because, according to the first customer service rep that I spoke with, apparently 2 memberships in the Similac "Welcome Addition Club" (www.welcomeaddition.com) had been created for me by Similac out of info they had obtained about me from customer lists that they had purchased from BabiesRUs, ToysRUs, Motherhood Maternity, Mimi Maternity, A Pea in the Pod, and, as the customer service rep who I spoke with on the phone said, pretty much any baby-related business. I asked her to remove the two memberships, and asked her if it was Similac's policy to send unsolicited free formula to every mother whose information they obtained, whether or not she had indicated an interest in receiving free formula, and she said that yes, that was their policy. I registered my recommendation that they alter the policy so that they only send formula samples to women who have requested it, and ended the call.
I called back later to see what could be done for other moms who shopped at these places who DID NOT want to receive free formula, and this customer service rep said to make sure to instruct these businesses not to share my personal information. The problem, however, was that she couldn't give me a complete list of all of the businesses that Similac purchases customer information from. Moreover, she also confirmed that the mother's information could be picked up if someone else buys her a gift from one of these businesses. I explained that keeping her information from Similac was not entirely within a woman's control under these circumstances, and that I was simply looking for some means for a person to communicate in advance to the company that they did not want to receive free formula samples from Similac. She put me on hold for a couple of minutes, and when she came back she told me that mothers who wanted to make sure they did not receive formula samples from Similac could call the Welcome Addition Club customer service at 1-800-232-7677, and ask to be put on the "Do Not Mail" List.
So why all the fuss over receiving free samples of formula, you may ask? Why not just toss them? Well, actually there are several studies confirming that providing unsolicited samples and coupons for formula to women either through their "hospital discharge pack" or via their OB/Gyn office conclusively increases the rate of early abandonment of breastfeeding. As I've said before, breastfeeding is hard. It hurts; getting the latch right is hard; thrush, mastititis, engorgement, leaking through your shirt in inopportune moments, and painfully clogged milk ducts all add to the challenges. Lots of women unnecessarilly doubt whether their milk is "good enough" for their child (as the milk becomes higher in protein it takes on a more "watery" appearance that can be misleading, for example). So it's no wonder that studies find that thrusting formula into the hands of women who didn't ask for it will increase the rate and timing at which they give up.
Let me be clear - I have nothing against formula generally. Many women are unable to breastfeed, and it's wonderful that there is an option available for them that, while not quite as beneficial as breastmilk, is still perfectly adequate and safe. Many women simply choose not to breastfeed - see above re "hard" and "painful". That's their option, and they should have access to all the coupons and free samples they can get the formula companies to send them, because that stuff is not cheap. But if a woman is determined to breastfeed, she'll want every support and advantage on her side to help her be successful. Aside from picking doctors who support breastfeeding and will have resources available to help her deal with the challenges, finding lactation consultants in her area if they're available, and asking for the support of her family and friends to help her not feel the need to run and hide every time her child wants to eat (as is my own inclination, although I have nothing but admiration for my friends who manage it so effortlessly), she would also be wise to make sure that there isn't free formula getting put into her hands and mailbox - based on the information available about how this will diminish her chances of long-term success.
I hope this helps anyone out there who would like to not receive unwanted formula samples. I've forward this story to the Lactivist blog for wider circulation in case the author opts to pick it up. Ultimately it would be good to see something happen in the legal sphere prohibiting formula companies from sending free samples to women without first confirming whether they are interested in receiving them. Sheesh - there's a law against unsolicited emails; you'd think there could be a law against unsolicited formula for criminy's sake.