CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) - Birthing hospitals in Rhode Island have stopped giving away free samples of infant formula to new mothers in an effort to encourage breast-feeding, a spokeswoman for the state health department said on Tuesday.
The move by the state's seven birthing hospitals over the past decade was believed to make Rhode Island the first state in the nation to eliminate distribution of free packs of formula, except when medically necessary.
Last month, Landmark Medical Center and Memorial Hospital joined five other birthing hospitals -- Kent, Newport, South County, Westerly and Women & Infants Hospitals -- in stopping the practice, the Rhode Island Department of Health said in a statement.
"We always support efforts to encourage breast-feeding," said Annemarie Beardsworth, a health department spokeswoman.
The health department said breast-feeding puts mothers at a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes, while protecting babies against gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, among other health problems.
But the International Formula Council, a trade group, said research into infant formula samples and breast-feeding rates has been inconsistent, with some studies showing a relationship and others not.
The group said in a statement that breast-feeding rates had continued to increase over the past decade.
"The IFC believes mothers should be trusted to make good choices for their babies according to their individual family circumstances," the group said.
(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)