Almost 2,000 people want Governor Romney to put public health above drug company profits. That’s the message from the mothers, doctors, nurses and public health advocates who have signed the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition’s online petition since March 10.
“Should pharmaceutical companies make your health care decisions? Governor Romney says yes. We say no,” the petition begins. “The Romney administration has put the interests of the pharmaceutical industry above public health, by protecting the corporations who produce baby formula.”
In February, Romney tried to scuttle regulations limiting marketing to maternity patients. Big pharmaceutical companies sell about 80% of the baby formula in the US. These big corporations use hospitals to market their product, relying on doctors and nurses to give all new mothers free discharge bags with formula samples. The bags are only supplied by makers of the most costly brands of formula. Consumers pay at least 40% more for these brands, which covers the higher marketing costs
This marketing tactic has been denounced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, the WHO and the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress that oversees receipt and payment of public funds.
“Formula marketing campaigns aimed at new mothers do not belong in our state’s hospital rooms,” says Dr. Alison Stuebe, an obstetrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of the Board of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition. Two Massachusetts hospitals went “formula bag-free” on February 1: Brigham and Women’s, and Melrose-Wakefield. Brigham and Women’s is the biggest birthing site in the state, with almost 9,000 births per year.
Of Massachusetts’ 52 maternity hospitals and birth centers, eight others are now free of corporate discharge bags: Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Medical Center (BMC), Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Cambridge Birth Center, Franklin Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital, North Shore Birth Center, and Fairview Hospital, which went bag-free after the ban was first announced.
BMC, which serves mainly low-income families, went bag-free almost a decade ago. Like many bag-free hospitals, the hospital gives new moms a non-commercial bag, with no formula, instead. “We don’t sell baby formula; we sell health,” says Anne Merewood, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at BMC. Research shows that when breastfeeding mothers get these bags, they often start using formula.