Parents have revealed they are receiving free baby formula tins as part of online grocery orders in a move the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has described as “questionable”.
Several parents have told the ABC they were given Australia’s Own Diamond pro+ Premium Toddler Milk Drink for free through Coles and supplier Freedom Foods Group.
While parents have previously raised concerns about access to baby formula for infants, the unsolicited samples have reignited debate about breastfeeding versus formula, and whether toddler milk was needed for babies over one.
New mother Talor Robinson said she had recently discovered the extra can of baby formula in her shopping delivery and said she was concerned the free product could hoodwink vulnerable mothers.
“A first-time parent like I am will be super gullible, [they might think] ‘this a good brand I’ll use this’,” Ms Robinson said.
Shopper Claire Macken said she received a complimentary packet of generic brand nappies along with the can of baby formula.
“The delivery driver asked if I wanted to keep it as a lot have apparently been given back,” Ms Macken said.
I guess it’s the big issue of formula feeding versus breastfeeding and the big companies [are] pushing formula because they make money from sales.”
AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said the group believed breastfeeding was the best option for infants.
“Mothers should be supported to breastfeed wherever possible, as it is the optimal source of nutrients for all infants,” Dr Bartone said.
The AMA said infant formula was different to breast milk, but an adequate source of nutrients.
Dr Bartone said sending unsolicited baby formula to mothers was a “questionable endeavour”.
“If a retailer wants to support new mothers, perhaps it could provide them with the contact details of their nearest maternal and child health service,” he said.
A Coles spokesperson said the product was issued to a small number of customers, based on their previous purchases.
The spokesperson said the company often issued samples to customers based on their previous purchases.
Are the free products allowed?
In Australia, there is a voluntary self-regulatory code of conduct between the manufacturers and importers of infant formula surrounding marketing and promotion.
The guidelines aim to ensure babies have “safe and adequate nutrition” and to protect and promote breastfeeding.
Some users of an online mothers group have called for an overhaul of the guidelines.
Currently, they do not apply to retailers and only cover starter and follow-on formula for infants up to 12 months.
The powdered milk provided by Coles was “toddler milk” formulated for children aged one and above.
Children from the age of one are often given full-cream cow’s milk.
Freedom Foods Group, the maker of the formula, said it was a signatory to the agreement.
A paediatrician from Adelaide Paediatrics – who did not want to be named – said issuing free samples without proper educational material could be problematic.
“I don’t think the formula should be promoted in that way,” he said.
“I would worry, because if it’s a baby that’s just been discharged from hospital and they’re given 12 month plus formula, then that’s very different to what they’re on in the first six months.”
He said mothers should not be shamed for using alternatives if they could not breastfeed
“Some mums can’t make milk and we don’t want those mums to feel like failures and to feel upset that they’re denying their babies by not breastfeeding,” he said.
Mother Talor Robinson said she would give away the product to someone who needed it.
“It’s not something I’d buy myself anyway … [it was given to] someone who doesn’t require it,” Ms Robinson said.
She said she used a different formula to feed her baby and the sample she was given was for an older child.
Ms Robinson said she and a friend who also received a free tin would donate their samples to charity.
“Formula’s $20 to $30 depending on the tin,” she said.
“It seems like that could have been better spent somewhere else – like donating the formula to a women’s shelter, rather than giving it to someone who doesn’t require it.”