Much to my surprise, I received a package from Similac in the mail the other day. It was an 8 ounce sample of formula, along with some informational packets, and $20 worth of coupons.
I was amused at the brightly colored box’s claims, “Similac with OptiGRO Nutrition is “closer than ever to breast milk*”! Notice the *. In fine print, it read, “Reformulated to better match the average caloric density of breast milk…” What a stark reminder that nothing beats the nutritional content of breastmilk and trying to advertise in a way that makes a formula comparable to it simply makes a company look downright foolish.
I am not trying to put down formula feeding parents. Sometimes formula is the best or only choice for a family, and I support their informed decision to formula feed. What I do not support is formula companies trying to shove samples and tempting coupons down the throats of expectant mothers, actually undermining their chances of success for a healthy breastfeeding relationship.
According to the International Code for Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes, “the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, including infant formula, discourages mothers from initiating and/or exclusively breastfeeding their infants.”
The importance of avoiding the advertisement of breast-milk substitutes is so important that it is directly addressed in the global initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Baby Friendly Health Initiative.
One of the provisions of this initiative is that, “Hospitals and birthing centers wishing to attain Baby-Friendly designation must abide by the provisions of the International Code on Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes.”
The strict criteria for this code is listed below:
- No advertising of breast milk substitutes to families
- No free samples or supplies in the healthcare system.
- No promotion of products through healthcare facilities, including no free or low-cost formula.
- No contact between marketing personnel and mothers.
- No gifts or personal samples to health workers.
- No words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including pictures of infants, on the labels or product.
- Information to health workers should be scientific and factual only.
- All information on artificial feeding, including labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding and the costs and hazards associated with artificial feeding.
- Unsuitable products should not be promoted for babies.
- All products should be of high quality and take account of the climate and storage conditions of the country where they are used.
Many hospitals do abide by these rules, for which I am sincerely grateful, but an alarming number still do hand samples out--86% in 2007. Research has shown that free formula given to new moms tends to result in poorer breast-feeding outcomes.
It is because of this research (this known fact that having formula sitting around your house results in poorer breastfeeding outcomes) that I am upset by Similac sending me this package. I did not ask for it. I don’t know how they got my information. I don’t want the formula.
Let's imagine a new mother just home from the hospital. Say she chose a hospital that was certified baby friendly, so that she would have the support to initiate breastfeeding, and not send her home with formula samples.
But, for whatever reason, this new mother is having trouble breastfeeding. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. Maybe it’s even painful. She feels like a failure as a mother because breastfeeding is not coming as easily or as naturally as she thought it would. She isn’t getting enough sleep. She is worried that her baby isn’t getting enough to eat. She is worn down by the stress of the situation.
She then remembers the samples that the formula companies so kindly mailed to her, in bright packages, full of tempting promises. In a moment of exhaustion and frustration, she uses some. She knows it isn’t what she wants, but in that moment it seems easier. Just. That. Once.
However from there, without the support she needs, she begins the downward cycle; as she resorts to formula feeding more and more often. Her supply begins to drop, and her baby, frustrated with the lack or speed of milk, no longer want to suckle at her breast. The mother, though saddened at this turn of events, doesn’t see any other choice and thus, the formula feeding relationship begins.
Allow me to reiterate that I fully support informed formula feeding!
What makes my blood boil is how formula companies send out unsolicited samples. It would be one thing if they were available by request for parents that need to formula feed. It is quite another to distribute them to everyone before their baby is born.
Have you been sent formula samples? How did you feel about it? Share your story in the comments below!