Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Profits from pregnancy: how trusted organisations sell out women to commercial interests

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 28 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3448
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

The NHS and some UK royal colleges profit by selling commercial advertisers access to pregnant women through promotions such as Bounty bags. These potential conflicts of interest are unacceptable, considers Margaret McCartney

Bagsful of freebies are given to expectant parents from companies keen to promote their products—nappy creams, vouchers for photos, washing powder samples, and “special offers” to buy bibs, workout books, and buggies. What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t products associated with pregnancy and childbirth be advertised to expectant parents?

The point is that the UK National Health Service, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and government have embedded commercial advertising into routine contact with pregnant women during antenatal and postnatal care.

The RCOG is setting up Baby and You magazine, which it plans to give for free to pregnant women. Mark Green, managing director of the commercial company Bednest, which sells bedside cribs for newborn babies, was contacted by a sales representative from B+Y Publishing, using the RCOG logo, who offered a “guaranteed minimum” audience of 500 000 mothers and parents through “their Obstetrician/midwife … the most trusted and influential person throughout this entire time.”

The representative offered Green an “educational/advertorial piece, presenting you as a thought leader, as well as a trusted solution provider.” The package, costing £15 000 (€17 500; $22 500) for six months, included an “up to date database of 100 000 families.”

Green, horrified at how easy it seemed to pay for influence, contacted the RCOG. The college is investigating and told …

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