Got Milk? Breastfeeding, Formula And Advertising

I recently took part in an online debate about the impact of ‘ toddler formula’ advertising. The hundreds of responses varied from mothers believing it had direct links to low breastfeeding rates (beyond 12 months) through to mothers believing there was absolutely nothing wrong with a company marketing it’s product.

What began as a healthy debate quickly disintegrated into personal attacks and offensive comments. It appeared that breastfeeding advocates had difficulty presenting their ‘case’ without sounding judgemental and offensive. On the flip side, formula advocates were quick to dismiss the fact that advertising/marketing had anything to do with their feeding choice. In fact, they seemed to find this notion quite insulting.

This debate raises two questions.

Can someone be a passionate breastfeeding advocate without being judgemental and causing offense?

Yes! Providing we accept that others will make choices that are different to our own. Personally, I’m passionate about breastfeeding but I certainly don’t judge another parents choice to formula feed at all.  There are many (often complex) reasons why a mother will choose to formula feed her baby and we cannot assume this is due to misinformation, lack of education or laziness. I believe it is possible to be passionate about our choice to breastfeed without judging those who choose to feed differently.

Does formula advertising impact a mother’s choice to formula feed? And is it insulting to assume so?

Thankfully, infant formula advertising is banned in Australia due to the widely recognized fact that companies who are motivated by profit should not be involved in influencing a mothers choice on how to feed her baby.

Prior to the MAIF code, formula companies used a variety of deceptive and unethical marketing strategies to promote their products to new mothers.

Most notably was the predatory marketing strategy to sell formula to vulnerable mothers in the third world. They handed out enough free samples to last until a mother’s breastmilk dried up and were forced to purchase formula. Due to poverty, water was unsanitary and these mothers often couldn’t afford to continue purchasing the formula. As a consequence, thousands of infants died as a direct result of this companies marketing. These facts are not in dispute. (see nestle boycott).

In the 70’s doctors were paid by formula companies to encourage mothers to cease breastfeeding and convert to formula. Health professionals told mothers that formula was scientifically advanced and superior to breastmilk. It was a blatant lie and a sneaky, unethical marketing technique.

These are dramatic examples of unethical marketing but it gives us a sense that these companies do not act in our best interest.

It is also fair to say that thousands of images throughout our lifetime showing formula cans and baby bottles have some influence on our choice on how to feed our baby or at the very least influence what we perceive to be ‘normal.’

It is not insulting to our intelligence to say we are influenced by advertising. Afterall,  advertisers are very good at what they do! It’s a million dollar industry because it works!

A mother is the only person who can choose the right way to feed her baby. This decision shouldn’t be influenced by judgemental or offensive breastfeeding advocates OR the companies that seek to make money out of the choice to bottlefeed. As with everything, we need to do our own research to find what is right for us and be prepared to question the motives of those who seek to influence our choices.

With this particular choice, we need our eyes wide open!


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