This post is not about abortion. If you want to read about abortion, Google “abortion,” but don’t expect to read about it in this post. Nope, this post is about another “women’s ‘choice’” issue.
Ever heard of babyfeedingchoice.org? Me neither, before about five minutes ago. But after a quick perusal, I now know everything I need to know about it. Babyfeedingchoice.org is a website created by the International Formula Council (an infant formula lobby group). In it, you will find much lip-service about how “breastfeeding is best,” blah blah blah more politics, etc. They have a very craftily worded page dedicated entirely to “Support for Breastfeeding.” They have another one totally about “mother guilt.” (How’s that for political?) …But the main crux of the site is to convince the world that women WANT to feed their babies formula, and by golly, they have every right to, because women have rights! And freedom! And women need their formula! They WANT it! They ask for it! (Sounds kinda like what you hear some rapists say when speaking of their victims, coincidentally enough. Or is it a coincidence…?)
Let me be crystal clear about something: of course women have the right to feed their babies formula if they want to. But I’m going to spell this out just in case my point is lost: the formula “choice” debate isn’t about women’s freedom. It isn’t about feminism. It isn’t about women’s rights or even consumer advocacy. Women will always have the choice to feed their infants infant formula. Babyfeedingchoice.org isn’t about that, though, as much as they want everyone to believe it is. It’s really about rallying support for formula manufacturers in their quest to disenfranchise women and infants of their rightful biological norm by convincing everybody that what women really want (and spend all their time thinking about, apparently) are those “awesome” infant formula gift bags in hospitals. After all, everybody else is doing it. And furthermore, [insert some other contrived reasons here].
To help illustrate this, they have a whole page dedicated to “What do moms say?” Here’s a little gem from that page: “…mothers approve of receiving infant formula samples, and they do not believe samples have much, if any, impact on a mother’s decision as to what to feed her baby…” Replace “infant formula samples” with “free packs of cigarettes” and “as to what to feed her baby” with “to smoke” and see how it sounds: “…mothers approve of receiving free packs of cigarettes, and they do not believe the samples have much, if any impact on a mother’s decision to smoke…” Hmmm…
The thing is, marketing research demonstrates definitively that receiving free anything impacts consumer use, even if the consumer doesn’t believe he/she is being influenced by the free item(s). That’s why companies do it — because it works! They wouldn’t waste their time and precious money on paying to distribute free samples if they didn’t think it was going to result in returns ($$$) on their investment. It doesn’t really matter what the product is, if you receive a free sample of it, you’re more likely to try it (and if you’re a health care worker, you’re more likely to recommend it). For a lot of products, that’s not necessarily harmful, but for a product like infant formula (or cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals), it can (and often does) have disastrous consequences to the consumers. It does not matter if the consumer perceives the sample doesn’t affect them; the fact remains that receiving free samples DOES affect resultant consumer behavior.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that formula manufacturers are very well-versed and well-educated about breastfeeding. Formula executives learn about it, their companies even pay for research on it, so they “know their enemy” (their enemy being their most threatening competitor: breastfeeding) very, very well. Formula executives (those in charge of making marketing decisions) are very well aware of the deleterious impact on breastfeeding of interfering with a newly born infant’s suckling reflex by introducing an artificial nipple, and of separating infants from their mothers. They use this knowledge to push baby-unfriendly hospital practices — which they know will sabotage breastfeeding — to get the majority of their customers by marketing through the health care industry. Magazine and television ads are just marketing icing on the cake for them. The marketing cake for formula corporations is: the samples handed out by doctors during prenatal check-ups, the routine formula bottle-feeding of newborns separated from their mothers that hospital workers engage in every day in hospital nurseries, the free formula gift packs given to exhausted, convalescing postpartum moms, and last but not least, WIC program contracts with formula manufacturers which ultimately encourage formula use (WIC is responsible for over 50% of formula sales in the United States (PDF)). That’s where formula manufacturers get the bulk of their customers, ironically from the very people that should be encouraging breastfeeding the most! Formula executives push to short-circuit the breastfeeding learning process from the very beginning, encouraging mother-baby separation immediately after birth because it ensures them sales in the future — at least a year’s worth of formula sales, per baby! That is a lot of money, and whatever it cost the formula companies to provide the free samples in the hospital, per baby, is easily a write-off, after the first week or two the baby’s parents buy formula. The rest is pure profit (minus the tiny cost of manufacture and transport — miniscule in comparison to the profit), since formula is so grossly overpriced (even the “cheap” powdered stuff).
- Free Commercial Formula Discharge Bags and Their Association with Decreased Breastfeeding (PDF)
- The Rituals of American Hospital Birth (PDF)
- Is WIC Promoting Infant Formula?
- WIC and the Retail Price of Infant Formula (PDF)
- The High Price of Infant Formula in the United States (PDF)
So now you know. Babyfeedingchoice.org is full of marketing lies designed to convince the general public that the formula industry should be allowed to keep marketing to health professionals by fighting to keep formula samples in hospitals.
There is another website also full of lies you should know about: Momsfeedingfreedom.com. It is also paid for by the International Formula Council to further convince the general public that marketing through health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and WIC employees) is not only OK, but that moms WANT it, and that therefore this woman-unfriendly and baby-unfriendly status quo should be maintained. Absurd, ridiculous, and completely diabolical are words that come to mind when I see websites like this, but what can you do? At the very least they’re open about their funding, which is more than I can say about some researchers who conduct infant feeding studies.
Actually, that’s a good question: What can we do as lactivists to make things better for other moms and their babies? At the very least, we should work hard to get the Breastfeeding Promotion Act passed, which is something every American over the age of 18 can do (link provides ideas and plans of action). Beyond that, it is possible we can beat formula companies at their own game. They “know their enemy.” We should (at least) do the same, so that we become aware of what we’re up against. Knowledge is power. Let’s put the knowledge (power) about destructive formula marketing practices in the hands of women so that they can make truly informed, REAL choices for themselves and their babies. Let’s promote real breastfeeding education so that the formula pushers don’t win.