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Many U.S. hospitals have abandoned sending breastfeeding new moms home with formula freebies, according to government researchers who found a big decline in a practice they say discourages nursing.

CHICAGO — Many U.S. hospitals have abandoned sending breastfeeding new moms home with formula freebies, according to government researchers who found a big decline in a practice they say discourages nursing.

In 2013, just under one-third of U.S. maternity wards offered the giveaways, versus nearly three-fourths in 2007, a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found. Rates vary by region and the practice is much more common at hospitals in some Midwestern and Southern states than on both coasts.

The study was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

CDC researchers analyzed surveys administered every two years to all U.S. hospitals with maternity services. Questions involve various practices surrounding childbirth, including whether hospital discharge packets given to breastfeeding moms contain infant formula samples.

Nearly 3,000 hospitals responded during each of the years studied.

Public health efforts, including the World Health Organization's Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative, discourage the freebies because of health benefits that breastfeeding provides infants and their mothers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups recommend that babies receive only breast milk for their first six months, but data show that occurs for just 20 percent of U.S. infants.

Online:

Pediatrics: http://www.pediatrics.org

Breastfeeding: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner