My baby, my decision: mothers unite in fight against hospitals

Unfair practice: Hospitals make money by feeding newborns formula milk and adding it to the bill.

Unfair practice: Hospitals make money by feeding newborns formula milk and adding it to the bill.  

Online petition demanding parental consent before feeding babies formula milk garners over one lakh signatures

An online petition demanding that hospitals take consent before feeding formula milk to newborns has slowly gained momentum, crossing one lakh signatures.

Started in 2017 by software engineer Jincy Varghese (33), the petition brought together several mothers and triggered a larger conversation on the blatant practice of feeding babies with powder milk soon after birth, thereby depriving them of mother’s first milk that contains rich nutrients and provides immunity.

Ms. Varghese, a resident of Panvel, started the petition after her son was fed formula milk soon after birth. “I had a caesarean section but I was conscious throughout the procedure. My baby was shifted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) soon after birth as doctors had to monitor his sugar levels. That’s when he was fed formula milk,” she said, adding that this was done despite the hospital having a human milk bank.

Breast milk is the natural first food for babies that protects them from infections and other diseases. Breastfeeding also plays a crucial role in preventing infant mortality. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond.

Difficult journey

According to Ms. Varghese, despite the importance of breastfeeding, none of the doctors prepared her for the journey and how it can be difficult for new mothers. “I went for regular follow-ups but not once did anyone prepare me for the challenges of breastfeeding,” she said, adding that she had no idea if the formula milk was good or bad for her baby. It was through the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers, a peer-to-peer support group, that Ms. Varghese interacted with other mothers who shared their experiences like the rampant use of formula milk in hospitals and low production of one’s own breast milk.

Her petition on titled ‘Stop feeding formula milk to newborns without the parent’s consent’ highlights these issues. “Hospitals, especially the private ones, make tonnes of money because they get discounted formula milk dabbas [tins] from the pharmaceutical companies,” the petition states. “The moment the baby is born, they open a new dabba and start feeding the baby. That dabba is then given to the new mothers to take home with them and the cost is added to the bill. And all of this is done without the consent of the unsuspecting mother who is tired after delivering the baby. I know quite a few mothers who’ve had a tough time switching from formula to breast milk,” it says.

Fortunately for Ms. Varghese, her baby was in the NICU only for a day. “Had he been there for a longer time, I cannot even imagine how hard it would have been for me to wean him off formula,” she wrote in the petition. She is now planning to meet government officials to work out solutions.

‘Gross violations’

India has the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act, which is aimed at protection and promotion of breastfeeding and ensuring proper use of infant foods. But its implementation is questionable, say experts.

“Companies making infant formulas sponsor many medical conferences and scientific studies which are gross violations of the Act,” said paediatrician Dr. Satish Tiwari, president, Human Milk Banking Association.

“A few months ago, the Indian Council of Medical Research had termed two such studies, being carried out by top hospitals and funded by multinational brand Nestle, illegal,” he said, adding that the doctors’ associations have to come together to ensure that the Act is not violated by the fraternity.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 4:12:30 PM |

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