By Peggy O’Mara
In December 2005, thanks to the hard work of Marsha Walker and The Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, the Massachusetts legislature became the first in the US to prohibit the distribution of formula sample bags in hospitals. However, then Governor Mitt Romney pressured the Public Health Council to rescind the ban.
The council successfully resisted his pressure until he fired and replaced three members just prior to a vote on the ban; in May 2006 it was rescinded. Less than two weeks later, Romney announced a $66 million deal with Bristol-Myers, the world’s largest formula manufacturer, to build a pharmaceutical plant in Devens, Massachusetts.
In June of that year, Massachusetts state representative Helen Stanley (D-Second Essex) introduced House Bill 2257 to protect a new mother’s right to receive formula sample bags in the hospital. The wesbite, momsfeedingfreedom.com—created to oppose the Massachusetts ban—hosted a petition in support of this bill.
At the time, the website, momsfeedingfreedom.com, was registered to eNilsson, an international web consulting firm whose clients included Romney for President. Now it openly states that it “was made possible by a grant from the International Formula Council. “A mirror site, babyfeedingchoice.org, is copyrighted by the International Formula Council.
The good news is that as of July 1, 2012, all 49 Massachusetts hospitals are voluntarily bag free and Massashusetts joins Rhode Island with its seven hospitals as one of two bag-free states. Seventeen hospitals in Portland, Oregon are also voluntarily bag free.
According to Marsha Walker, who monitors the distribution of formula samples in health care facilities, there are currently 643 bag free hospitals and birth centers in the US.
To learn more about how to help ban the distribution of free formula samples in your local hospital, see the Ban the Bags Toolkit and join Public Citizen’s campaign.
Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.