Dad was right. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
First, some stats: In 2013, 11.1% of Illinois babies had been exclusively breastfed at 6 months old. This means no formula supplementation and no solids. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 initiative wants us to be up to 25.5% by year 2020. (Other countries’ data.)
OK, got it. Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal. “Breast is best” and all that. We’ve heard that song before.
There are LOTS of reasons exclusive breastfeeding doesn’t happen for moms and babies. Some are legit, and some are not. In the “are not” category lies the topic of today’s post: formula marketing in healthcare facilities.
Remember that time you were in a hospital and the doctor said, “Listen, I really need you to eat a healthier diet, but I know that’s really hard to do, so I left a hamburger and french fries next to your bed – provided free of charge – just in case you need it.”
No? That’s never happened in the history of medicine? So why is it OK for our medical professionals, the people we trust to guide our health decisions, to sell out our babies’ health in the name of corporate profit? We KNOW breast is best. We KNOW breastfeeding can be really difficult for some moms. We KNOW that our partners, parents, friends and employers can be total douchebags about our decision to breastfeed.
The last thing on earth we need is corporate profit weaseling its way into our breastfeeding relationship… through the people and institutions we trust!
Formula marketing in healthcare facilities has to stop if we are serious about helping moms and babies.
This is about MONEY and MESSAGE.
MONEY: Formula companies know that moms who get started on formula in the hospital will stay loyal to that brand. The logic: if I got it in the hospital, then the folks who know a lot about health must think it’s OK. Moms who get started supplementing early will also have trouble building up a full breastmilk supply, so they’re going to need to supplement for the full first year of their baby’s life. That’s some serious cash and definitely not “free.”
MESSAGE: Just as providing divorce papers – just in case – at a wedding ceremony is not the best message for newlyweds, providing formula at a birth sends moms a seriously mixed-up message. Yes, of course there are some moms choose to formula feed, and there are some moms who truly cannot exclusively breastfeed. We’re not talking about those moms. We’re talking about moms who *want* to breastfeed, who *plan* to breastfeed, who are *able* to breastfeed – those are the moms who suffer the most from this insidious practice. New moms doubt themselves… a lot! They honestly don’t know if their bodies can supply everything their babies need to grow and thrive. When healthcare professionals hawk breastmilk replacements - passively or not – they are basically telling a mom, “You’re probably not going to succeed at this. You are not enough for your baby.” Breastfeeding success depends on mom’s confidence in herself, but we are systematically allowing that confidence to be chipped away…
***BY OUR VERY OWN HEALTHCARE FACILITIES AND PROFESSIONALS!!!!***
You’d think someone would have done something about this by now. Oh wait, they did. Thirty-three years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Even back then, in the dark ages, they knew that moms need all the help they can get to be successful in breastfeeding. By the way, I was 5 in 1981. That’s crazy.
Today I had the pleasure of participating in a petition delivery to urge formula companies to adhere to the WHO Code.* Better late than never, right?
Will we convince formula companies to stop marketing in healthcare facilities? Maybe not. Can we do anything else? Yes.
- Make sure your doctor knows that formula samples and marketing through them are in violation of the WHO Code and really not great for moms and babies. Let your doctor know that you trust her to help you make healthy decisions, so you expect her to become educated about this.
- Refuse “free” formula samples and talk to nurse managers, hospital administrators and your doctor about why your business will go elsewhere if they don’t change their practices. Here’s what a Baby Friendly doctor’s office looks like. Here’s proof that banning free formula samples is correlated with a higher hospital rating.
- Support your friends. New moms rely on their friends to help them through the most difficult parts of motherhood. If your friend is giving birth soon, help her connect to great, evidence-based resources on breastfeeding. If she’s having problems, help her connect to a lactation professional.
Get formula out of our healthcare facilities, Chicago! Help make it easier for moms to breastfeed successfully.
*Thank to Public Citizen who organized the petition and its delivery. You rock!