Originally published: 21.10.16
Commercial organisations should not be allowed access to vulnerable women and newborn babies on hospital wards. Back in 2013, the Guardian published an article calling for Bounty to be banned from maternity wards and a petition was started, but this has since closed and the situation remains changed . Bounty reps are still allowed free rein among the hospital beds of new mothers. A 38 degrees petition was recently launched to raise awareness of the issue once again.
The government argues that the £90,000 it pays each year to Bounty to allow it to distribute Child Benefit forms is justified because that way they will reach 97% of new parents. Bounty itself insists that its reps play a crucial role in getting information to parents. It also argues that most parents are happy to talk to its reps and to receive the free goods and vouchers in its Bounty packs.
There is a high level of commercialisation around women’s health, and the areas of maternal health, fertility and childbirth are particularly affected. Under the guise of offering support to complete the form, Bounty reps are taking the details of new mothers with a view to passing them onto third-party organisations who then bombard women with marketing spam. Child Benefit forms can be freely obtained online or in hard copy form and these could easily be handed out by a registrar or midwife, eliminating the need for the presence of a commercial company. Additionally, new parents have reported that the reps do not behave appropriately on the ward, often invading privacy and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. These reps exploit women when they are at their most vulnerable and anxious to give their newborns the best start in life. They are allowed access outside of visiting hours, and frequently open curtains and enter the private spaces of new mothers, who may be recovering, sometimes from caesareans, or breastfeeding, or trying to snatch some much-needed rest.
A frustrated and upset new mum describes her experience on a mumsnet forum: ‘[the Bounty rep] arrived originally before breakfast turned on the lights and opened curtains waking me and the other Mum up, then continued to talk over the peadiatrician [sic] who was checking my [daughter] over.’ Apparently without regard for anything but commercial gain and her own concerns, the rep ‘eventually […] sulked off but apparently came back when I was asleep (how dare I?) Last time she came back as I’d just settled [my daughter] and was eating lunch which had just arrived. I said No photos at the minute thanks she got most insistant [sic] that its for security reasons?? (I’m going home today) and said she’d just lean round and take them, [my daughter] was asleep on my lap in a v pillow whilst I ate. I said again, not right now I’m eating she left brochures and went off muttering quite loudly.’ The thread below this post is full of similar accounts from other mothers, making it clear that this woman’s experience is far from isolated.
Not only is it unethical and downright invasive to allow strangers who are not medical professionals access to hospital wards, this issue is symptomatic of a much larger issue around the commercialisation and commodification of childbirth and maternity. From conception, women are bombarded with information and ‘advice’ – on pregnancy, how and where to give birth, and how to look after their babies – from commercial organisations selling goods and services. Under the pretence of offering valuable services and information, Bounty not only patronises but exploits and bullies new mothers with the sole goal of achieving commercial gain.
In a thought-provoking piece entitled, ‘Why Birth is a Feminist Issue’ the question is posed, ‘Why is the culture of childbirth saturated in fear? Why not trust women to make their own informed choices about their bodies and their babies?’ These choices can only be made when they are unclouded by fear and by the influence of the kind of marketing and commercialism that is currently state-sanctioned in our publicly funded hospitals. By allowing Bounty to stalk our maternity wards, the government is allowing the sacred space of birth and new motherhood to be debased and exploited.
FemmeVision : My blog is intended to be a place to talk about gender equality and what that means today, engaging in the debate with a reasoned, evidence-based approach. I post somewhat erratically, as and when I am inspired to; I never post just for the sake of it. I am interested in women’s health, academia, anti-capitalism and poverty, colonialism and post-colonialism. I often post pieces on events or talks I have attended and feel inspired to write about and share. Twitter @lisaaglass