Free Formula Samples [NEVER] Save The Day

By Danelle Day
comic by Heather Cushman-Dowdee at Mama Is...

As a new mom planning to exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible, I was flooded with free cans of formula - in the mail, at the hospital, and even from (well meaning) relatives who brought over "the very best" artificial (poor-excuse-for) baby food they thought money could buy. These cans, affectionately referred to as 'poison' at our house, sat in a pile under a bench in our kitchen until I could figure out what to do with them.

When our first son was born, breastfeeding did not come as easily as we expected. Birth ended in a violent manner (via a very unwanted c-section) and like many sectioned (and suctioned) babies, our son was not sucking properly to nurse. For days he struggled, and I struggled, as I pumped with vigor to get my supply up and my husband and I syringe fed him this milk. In the meantime, we hired two professional lactation consultants (each with their own expertise and experience) who we worked with daily. We quickly put together a list of milk donors just in case it ended up that we needed outside assistance to feed our new baby. Under no circumstance was feeding our tiny human anything other than human milk (no matter who this milk came from) even a remote option. Not my child.

Somehow, amidst all these early struggles, those stacks of formula cans sitting in the kitchen never did come to our rescue. Instead, they continued to sit, and wait - almost haunting me (and sometimes angering me) that they were even in my house. I did not want to give them to another new mother and (in the process) encourage and enable her to resort to artificial feeding means. Still, because I was ingrained to see them as somehow valuable, I did not throw them out. As a result, they ended up in the background of many pictures when our son started scooting along on the kitchen floor (still exclusively breastfed and void of any processed goop or powder). I'll have to explain those to him someday...

Eventually our son did perfect both his latch and his suck, and several years later was still nursing whenever he wished. You'd never know he had a problem once upon a time.

In the end, the cans went to one of the (well meaning) relatives who worked in a pediatric clinic, and I assume were given to parents already feeding their infants by artificial means. I continued to get surveys and questionnaires always asking what formula brands I fed my child, and at what age, and how much. Throughout the first year of life they frequented my mailbox, along with 3 different 'diaper bags' fully lined with Enfamil's logo, or tear-off-proof-tagged with Similac's slogan.

With each survey that arrived, I simply wrote "exclusively breastfed" in all the answer boxes - and in the margins when this was no longer a 'valid' answer at 8 and 9 and 10 months of age. All the while my tot grew big and strong and smart and normally on momma milk -- the food he was designed to get in the first place for his own baseline level of health and development -- and all of this in no part thanks to any formula company, or their free samples.


For information on accessing human milk donations if you are in need, see resources on this page, or contact your local La Leche League, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas, and childbirth educators or Mom's Milk groups. There are ALWAYS mothers willing and wishing to donate to help others in need. No matter our situation, all human babies deserve human milk, and we can make it work, even if it is more difficult in a formula-filled culture that does not currently support and empower breastfeeding mothers.

Poor latching and sucking abilities in newborns are commonly the result of an unnatural, non-gentle birth -- i.e. induction before baby is ready for the outside world and triggers labor on his/her own, being subjected to drugs during labor, being surgically removed rather than physiologically birthed (as happened for my first son and I), or being genitally cut after birth (leading to PTSD symptoms and withdrawal).

For information on getting your supply up while working with your baby if s/he doesn't have a good latch/suck, apply the tips at Breastfeeding: If at first you don't succeed, Balancing Breastfeeding: When Moms Must Work (even if you are not leaving your baby to go back to work, these suggestions aid in milk supply and hormone regulation), Induced Lactation (if you use donor milk to feed your baby, you are still able to nurse as well - even without a full supply - for your baby's comfort, and use a supplemental nursing system to feed). The books, Breastfeeding Made Simple, Making More Milk and Mothering Multiples (for twins or more) are also good resources to have on hand.

For additional breastfeeding resources, see books/websites/articles on this page.

image from Karen Speed of Bliss Breastfeeding



  1. I'm glad we're not the only household to refer to artificial breastmilk as "poison!" Good for you for not giving up!

  2. I'm constantly annoyed by the mail I receive from the formula companies. I finally threw out the sample cans they sent me; I had no intention of using them, but like you have been ingrained that they are valuable and should not be wasted. Then I thought about how much I hate the stuff and how they are only worried about making money and tossed it. I just hate how they hide behind the fact that they're just as good as mama's milk or that it's good for the baby.

  3. For formula samples and brochures mailed to your home, write "refused: return to sender." I'm not sure if anyone ever gets the message but at least they have to pay for postage!

  4. I gave the formula samples that were mailed to me to a sister-in-law's sister-in-law who was already using formula.

    I daren't refer to it as poison because my brother and his wife are planning to formula feed their next infant (6 months away) and they are heartily trying to convince themselves it won't make a difference. I'm tempted to offer them my milk as I produce like a machine.

  5. Just wanted to say that I struggled and struggled with breastfeeding. I somehow learned about an SNS with my (now) 4 year old when she was a few months old and we were able to continue...however I *shudder* had to use formula. Who ever heard of milk donation????

    With my (now) 2 year old I had heard of donations. and I had a wonderful donor until almost a year old. We substituted this time with raw goats milk which isnt as good as breastmilk but far superior to formula.

    This time we are still breastfeeding!!!! No problems yet. I'm also taking 100 mcg of DPD every day. I'm thinking it helped to start it immediately.

    anyway, there are so many things to do....we just have to get the word out.

  6. I was asked at the hospital whether I wanted a breastfeeding or bottlefeeding complementary diaper bag, and even though I picked the breastfeeding one it STILL had formula in it. After I saw it and shrieked, my husband snatched it out of the bag and threw it right in the hospital trash can in my room. Some people have said this was wasteful, but it was a purely emotional response on my part, and my husband is always happy to help. I think the thing that made me mad was just thinking of a first time mother being tempted by the formula in the "breastfeeding" bag. For some mothers who have no support system, it is hard enough to get in the groove without people trying to sabotage the whole thing.

  7. At the hospital, I don't think I received a breastfeeding support bag, though I did get a formula one. I was too tired to be a lactivitst and refuse, but I never opened that can. We got stuff in the mail, too. And the pediatrician's office has can a-plenty, too.

    Good job not giving up! And for continuing your nursing relationship!

  8. I didn't like receiving the samples or booklets (with inaccuracies) in the mail, but I donated the samples to a food bank because I felt guilty about throwing them away. I didn't want to contribute to a woman giving up on breastfeeding, but I have seen the statistics on how many women stop breastfeeding by age 3 months, so I figured there had to be some use for the samples at the food bank.

  9. Please be cautious of calling artificial baby milk "poison" outside of safe circles. For many mothers who are given inaccurate information, poor or no support, and have a typical American birth (and isn't this almost every mom in our country?), breastfeeding is a very very hard route to follow. At least there is a food option for these babies. And for those of us who did not have donor milk as an option while overcoming our own poor breastfeeding beginnings, formula was a (thankfully short-term) necessity. Not something I'm glad my babies received, but under the circumstances better than nothing.

    Formula samples that continued to arrive were given to the county Crisis Nursery just down the road. Until milk banks have enough human milk for ALL babies, not just the ones that critically need it, babies whose mamas are unable to take care of them will need some sort of artificial nutrition. At least it went to a good use.

  10. INCREDIBLE!!! I got to the end of the article and comments, and there was a GoogleAd for FORMULA SAMPLES!!!! Are they that unintelligent?

    For the record I have no qualms about tossing that trash - especially if it comes unsolicited via a hospital (one of many reasons I choose to birth at home) or well-meaning person.

    In the hospital waste receptacle - I loved that one! Did you open it up and deliberately pour it out for added effect? I mean, seriously, a breastfeeding support bag? For real?

  11. There is an ad for formula at the bottom of today's comments!!!

    I have also been encouraged not to waste the formula and donate it with the idea that people are using it anyway. We are perpetuating sub-standard infant feeding this way.

    If received in the mail, "return to sender" send it back to the company. At least someone will know that someone doesn't want their crap.

  12. I put my formula samples in the emergency kit at my babysitter's house in case she was ever in an emergency with my son and didn't have my pumped breastmilk. They might also be good in a car emergency kit.

  13. I encourage the women I work with to donate those cans to their local women's shelter. (I even take them out of their house for them!) Many women there have already been formula feeding for months, and that's not going to change. It helped that our shelter had my friend working there, who was doing everything possible to encourage breastfeeding and support breastfeeding moms. :)

    We would also encourage donations of breastfeeding supplies such as nursing pads, Lansinoh, nursing bras, etc. That way the nursing moms got help too.

  14. haha this was good

  15. For those who need extra milk than that which they produce (or for moms who adopt) there are always others willing and wanting to donate. I am glad the links for donation/receipt are included in this article (

    Wouldn't it be GREAT if there was a human milk bank on every corner in the States instead of a drug store selling artificial baby food?

    While not every mother will nurse her baby, every human baby still deserves human milk.

  16. I refer to it as "breastmilk substitute." I have FIVE cans in my cupboard. I keep meaning to donate it to the food bank but I think some are expired now.

  17. Yeah with both kids I have picked the 'breastfeeding' option with the complimentary stuff they give you at the hospital. With baby #1 I was given "singles" packs of Enfamil (I think that's how you spell it) and with #2 I was given that liquid Similac in the bottles that I assume you mix with some quantity of water? I don't know.

    Well with my first child we had trouble initially because I had flat nipples and he had a poor latch. The first night that we were home was hell because he wasn't getting any milk and was upset and hungry and I was exhausted.

    My husband appeared in the nursery where I was sleepily rocking our crying newborn and waggled one of those formula singles packets at me. He said, and I quote "it won't kill him...". I refused to use it and stuck out three weeks of using a shield and cracked bleeding nipples. I don't regret a thing, I'm glad I stayed strong, but I wonder about all the women that have been in that situation and caved just so they can get some sleep and their baby can get some food.

    3 years later my little boy (who was breastfed for 19 months - exclusively for 6) is strong, healthy and active and my second baby who is now 10 months old was exclusively breastfed for 6 months and is just as healthy.

  18. I think we ended up with 3 containers of Enfamil's answer to the margarine/butter debate - it may taste like butter, but it's not butter!

    My son ended up in the NICU for 4 weeks, and I wasn't allowed to start breastfeeding for 2 of those. He wasn't started on my pumped milk until he was 8do. (He was on morphine for 2 weeks, completely out for 1.5 weeks)

    There was a time at 3am when I was at home pumping, baby in the hospital, ready to throw in the bag. But then I realized he was going through so much more than I was, and he deserved the best of the best.

    We had to introduce a bottle (of BM) to get him home when we did, but we've been EBF since then. He'll be 4mo on August 12th and loves his mommy milk. :)

  19. Oh, and the formula has been donated / given to friends who were already FF! Not a drop has passed through my son's lips. :)

  20. I am a young single momma. My daughter is two in a half monthes old and I was breast feeding her until my milk dried up. Now I have to use formula unfortunately its expensive if anyone is giving away formula. I would gladly take it. Email me at thank you and God bless.

    1. Paulina - you may want to check out your local Human Milk 4 Human Babies group - - or Eats on Feets - and see who there would like to give you (FREE) milk for your baby. It helped me when I had a similar experience and my daughter is SO much healthier as a result. ((hug))

  21. There is nothing more that I regret than giving my son formula, he thrived on it and did well. But I feel insulted every time I give it to him even at 2 years old of using it. It got shoved up to me so much and got such lack of support and people telling me I was not feeding him while nursing that I just dried up altough I tried so hard to nurse on my own.

    On my second child I will bite anyones head off who mentions powder to me.

  22. If a family has a need for formula they can get it free through the WIC program. But free formula coming directly to mothers IS a problem because it undermines breastfeeding. INSTEAD you can do something very powerful: Write "RETURN TO SENDER" on the package and let the mail carrier return it to the formula company. That way THEY pay the POSTAGE both ways and you get rid of an unsolicited product.

  23. I had a very hard and similar experience with birth and starting to breastfeed as well. After 4 sleepless days in the hospital because the baby lost to much weigh. I tried the poison (suggested by the lactation consultant). She said I would never under other circumstances suggest this but your baby is very sick.(he looks fine at 7.4 lbs to me) Immediately after I syringed a little poison in his mouth as he was nursing. He changed. He was so sad and fussy and started to spit up a lot. It did not settle well in his tummy. We stupidly tried a 2nd time. Then I learned that the poison made him feel like crap. And I realized that I had failed him big time. NO MATTER HOW TIRED I WAS I should not have let him down and I did.

    Then in my 6th night of exhaustion, still recovering from 24 hours of an agonizing induction with out any pain meds leading to emergency a c-section ( I was put all the way under). I was dwelling on the fact that I had already let my son down, in his first week; I was already a bad mother. Then a nurse came in and I asked her to help me with him while I went to the bathroom. I had just nursed him. When returned I noticed she had filled a syringe to the top with formula and was starting to give it to him. I was saying stop please don't give that to him, stop. I could not move fast enough to fight her because of the pain. I was begging her not to give him it. She would not listen. So I did all I could, I threw a whole 4 pack of formula at her head.... it was too late. She had already gave him the poison and he of course threw it all up(along with all my colostrum) she later apologized. I have never forgiven my self for letting them give it to him 3 times

    Kasey from



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