For years, virtually every new mother has been sent home from the hospital with a gift bag full of free product samples, including infant formula. Now health authorities and breast-feeding advocates are leading a nationwide effort to ban formula samples, saying they can sway women away from breast-feeding. As of 2011, nearly half of about 2,600 hospitals in a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had stopped giving formula samples to breast-feeding mothers, up from a quarter in 2007. Recently, 24 hospitals in Oklahoma agreed to a ban. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, all hospitals stopped free samples. There's no question that breast-feeding had health benefits, experts say. But do samples tempt mothers who could breast-feed exclusively for the recommended six months to use formula when they're exhausted or discouraged? Studies have had mixed results. People on either side of the sample issue agree that hospitals should support breast-feeding in many ways.


A study suggests that prenatal exposure to mercury is associated with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the greater a mother's consumption of fish -- a source of mercury -- the less likely her child is to suffer these symptoms. The findings, published online in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, come from an analysis of 607 children born between 1993 and 1998. The researchers reviewed data on the amounts of mercury in the mothers' hair, comparing them against dietary records. At ages 7 to 10, the children underwent neuropsychological examinations. The scientists found an association between several ADHD-related behaviors and levels of mercury above one microgram per gram in the maternal hair samples. But mothers who ate more than two servings of fish per week were less likely to have children with ADHD-related behaviors. "All fish has some mercury in it, but there are very different levels," said Sharon K. Sagiv, an assistant professor at Boston University. "Eating fish is good for you, but eating fish that is high in mercury is not."


A large study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that boys are entering puberty earlier now than several decades ago -- or at least earlier than the time frame doctors have historically used as a benchmark. The study, which recruited pediatricians in 41 states and is widely considered the most reliable attempt to measure puberty in U.S. boys, estimates that boys are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than was reported in previous research -- age 9 on average for blacks, 10 for whites and Hispanics. Other studies have suggested that girls, too, are entering puberty younger. It was historically taught that 11 1/2 was the general age puberty began in boys. The study, published online in the journal Pediatrics, did not try to determine what might be causing earlier puberty, although it mentioned changes in diet, less physical activity and other environmental factors as possibilities. Experts said that without further research, implications for boys are unclear.