Any expectant woman can tell you: Once the word of a pregnancy is out, they are suddenly bombarded with ads and offers for baby formula.
The reason for the marketing blitz is the fact that infant formula is big business. A three-part report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in The Lancet lays out how infant formula manufacturers use misleading marketing practices and aggressive lobbying to push their agenda — an agenda that brings in $55 billion in sales each year.
It’s time to change that and make breastfeeding the standard practice. In the United States, even though about 83 percent of infants start out receiving some breast milk, by the age of one month, that number drops to 79 percent. Only about half of babies are still receiving any breast milk by the time they are six months old, and only 25 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively.
The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. It helps brain development; protects against malnutrition, infection and death; and reduces rates of obesity and chronic diseases that can occur later in life. Breastfeeding is also convenient and economical, though it sometimes takes a little time and effort to establish the process with a newborn.
Women deserve to make a choice about feeding their babies that is based on accurate information not shaped by the formula industry.
While some women are unable to breastfeed, most babies should be fed nothing but breast milk until they are six months old, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
Concerns about the formula industry’s global outreach and marketing practices date back to the 1970s. Breastfeeding was not in vogue, and only about 30 percent of infants received breastmilk. In 1981 the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO, developed the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The Code, which is a set of recommendations that unfortunately does not include the power to enforce them, states in part that labels should not idealize the use of infant formulas or use poor science to create a false narrative about them to sell more formula. It explicitly recommends against the practice of giving away free samples, but since no entity has the power to enforce the Code, free samples of formula are regularly sent to mothers-to-be.
There are known benefits of breast milk, but formula companies manipulate the scientific evidence and play on parents’ emotions to bring in the bucks. Commercial infant formulas do not offer the same nutrition, nor do they offer the benefits to infant health and development that breast milk does, contrary to what formula manufacturers would have us believe.
Breastfeeding not only makes babies smarter, it provides early immunity and kills dangerous viruses in infants’ guts.
One of the most common reasons that women turn to infant formula is their misreading of their babies’ unsettled sleep patterns and often relentless crying. They believe, and sometimes their healthcare providers too quickly support the notion, that these issues occur because their breast milk is insufficient, and their child is hungry. Erratic sleep patterns and crying are common with infants, however, and caregivers may be able to address sleep and hunger problems without switching from breastmilk to infant formula by introducing a little solid food — such as infant cereals — while a baby is still breastfeeding.
Labels and advertisements on formulas that use terms like “brain,” “neuro” and “IQ” or that claim certain formulas can lessen fussiness, assist with colic or help babies sleep longer at night are all violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Assertions like these play on parents’ emotions and desire to do what is best for their child — and them.
Unfortunately, feeding infant formula has become standard practice; however, there is just no science to support this practice.
Babies should be fed nothing but breast milk until they are six months old, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
Still, infant formula makers continue to ignore the Code and use massive amounts of resources to lobby against laws that would protect breastfeeding. With the advent of social media, the formula industry is able to target healthcare professionals and parents to promote the use of infant formula.
It will take society-wide changes for women to embrace breastfeeding and for infants to get the perfect nutrition that breastmilk provides. Working women need longer maternity leave. Healthcare organizations need to promote breastfeeding, educate moms-to-be and provide them with support to address all their breastfeeding questions and problems.
The government needs to protect mothers from deceptive marketing practices and put a stop to political lobbying. Not only does the Code need to made enforceable, but formula makers should be made accountable. Women deserve to make a choice about feeding their babies that is based on accurate information not shaped by the formula industry.