The Health Ministry on Sunday supported a private member’s bill sponsored by MK Danny Danon (Likud) that would prohibit advertising by formula companies in the hospital.

The idea is for new mothers to breast-feed their babies rather than be lured by aggressive advertising into using formula.

It is well known that excluding breast-feeding women who do not need any help, formula companies provide free mother’s milk substitutes to hospital nurseries that feed infants until they and their mothers are discharged. But to make the gifts pay off, the companies who win the public tender for such supplies try to induce mothers to continue to use formula when they get home instead of breast-feeding. Mothers who ask for a formula-filled bottle in obstetrics departments, often only at night when they are too tired to breast-feed then, are presented with sterile bottles with company logos and formula packets.

Yet mothers are allowed to request signs posted on baby beds stating that their newborns may be breast-fed only.

Mothers who are interested in bottle feeding are asked to fill in a coupon, which results in getting gift packages when they arrive home.

The private member’s bill that was on Sunday approved for government support by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation would bar advertising of such products inside hospitals including logos on free baby bottles.

Yet it was not clear from the ministry why the legislation was necessary, as a year ago, the ministry’s medical branch chief Dr. Chezy Levy sent a reminder to all hospitals that since 2003, it has been forbidden to market or advertise baby formula inside hospitals. More than 15 years ago, the ministry endorsed the international code of the World Health Organization barring publicity by baby formula companies in hospitals.

Representatives of the companies were forbidden to wander in the hospital wards and hand out advertising or gifts to encourage bottle feeding. “Baby-friendly hospitals,” as they were called, were also forbidden to allow these commercial representatives to wander around the wards and hand out formula samples.

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