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Misleading Advertisements: The "Breast Milk" Formula

Posted Nov 03 2010 12:00am
Here is a FreecycleNYC post I saw a few months ago
"I would really appreciate it if someone had any enfamil premium lipil  baby formula (the breast milk kind) that you no longer need. I could really  use some as I'm about to run out and money is tight this week. Thanks in advanced."

I wrote this down in my blog notebook, noting "formula (the breast milk kind)," and forgot all about until today.  This morning, I attended a conference for hospitals in NYC who want to become part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI).  The BFHI establishes hospital environments that have breastfeeding policies in place regarding educating moms about breastfeeding and optimally supporting them in a hospital environment where babies stay with their moms for the first half hour before being whisked away to the nursery, where rooming-in is the norm, and where there are no formula advertisements (hence no Parents magazines), along with other supportive measures.

I have been on maternity leave this past year from my job of implementing such an initiative.  I was nursing my older son when I took the job three years ago.  And I have been breastfeeding my second son all of this year.  And I do some breastfeeding education in my community.  Hence, I talk about breastfeeding a lot!  And frankly, sometimes I get sick of it.   And sometimes, I am sure, my friends get sick of me.  They even tell me sometimes, "Oh, don't look, I am giving a bottle." What they don't realize is that I really don't take it personally how they choose to feed their baby.  They are smart women, they have done their research, and they can come to conclusions that work for them, their families, and their lifestyles.  
Then why do I care so much about breastfeeding?  Because of women who post ads such as the one I copied above.  Because low income women, under-educated women, women who have been silenced by years of not speaking the language, have become victims of the formula advertising era.  Women whose children will not have all of the educational opportunities that mine and my children's friends will have.  Women who live in environments that are contaminated with pollutants, pest control chemicals, feces from cockroaches, nearby idling buses, peeling lead paint, a lack of books to read or toys to play with.  Whose food stamps make more caloric sense to be spent on soda than an apple.  Children are born into their wombs and then into their environments.  These are the women I work with.  These are the children who may fare better on breast milk, whether for nutritional or emotional support.
Let me share with you a picture of many, not even all, of the ads and free formula I received while I was pregnant with my first son in 2008.  Take this picture in:  One of the ads up close:
And here are two ads from the most recent Parents magazine


I know breastfeeding is in the news a lot, discussed in blogs and on the playground, and I know many of you are getting tired of hearing about it!  But don't feel guilty if you didn't breastfeed.  Instead, focus on the many women who also didn't breastfeed, who live different lives than you, and be thankful that these conversations are taking place, that these research studies are being done, and that you have a choice.   And be angry that ads that imply that formula is akin to breastfeeding are allowed to exist, everywhere you turn.  Research, conversations, breastfeeding initiatives, and breastfeeding advertisements teach women that they have a choice to make.  That there is no "Breast Milk" formula. That there is no substitute for a mom's milk.

To learn more about marketing breast milk substitutes, read the WHO Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes , which all hospitals and all parenting magazines should adopt.

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