Breast-feeding debate heats up in Massachusetts
BOSTON (Reuters) – When it comes to breast-feeding, do mothers really
Officials are facing that question in Massachusetts, which is debating whether to become the first U.S. state to ban hospitals from handing out free samples of infant formula, provided by formula companies, to new mothers.
Republican Gov. Mitt Romney says he believes mothers should decide how to feed their infants and has asked the state’s Public Health Council to repeal the ban that it announced in December and set to take effect in July.
The council, which is part of the state’s health agency, voted on Tuesday to suspend the ban and study the issue for three months. They will decide in May whether or not to go ahead with the ban.
Medical studies show breast-feeding lowers the risk and severity of ear infections, diarrhea and bacterial meningitis in babies, and may help to protect against crib death, diabetes, obesity and asthma.
Women who nurse are also found to have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer.
Backers of the ban say the formula gift bags discourage new mothers from breast-feeding. Formula manufacturers call the ban unnecessary and doubt ending the decades-old custom would lead to a rise in the
number of mothers who breast-feed.
Romney, who is weighing a bid for the White House in 2008, said mothers know what’s best for their babies, not lawmakers, and women can decide whether to use the gifts.
“I’m not enthusiastic about the heavy arm of government coming in and saying: ‘We think we know better than mothers, and we are going to decide for you,”‘ he told reporters.
Typically, a new mother receives the brand-name formula with coupons for more before leaving the hospital.
About 70 percent of U.S. women breast-fed at least once after bearing a child in 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of those breast-feeding exclusively is about 62
percent seven days after birth, but fell to 14 percent at six months.
“We don’t feel it is a good public health policy to give them out,” said Anne Merewood, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “New mothers are a vulnerable group and this is pure marketing.
“These are brand name products from the hospital. It looks like the hospital is endorsing it. It’s like putting Pepsi-Cola machines in the schools,” she said.