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Formula Companies and Breastfeeding Support

Much like tobacco companies placing health warnings on their packs of cigarettes, every can of formula these days seems to sport the words, “Breast is Best.” Formula companies create breastfeeding guides, breastfeeding resource kits and even offer free breastfeeding hotlines. This public affairs approach has earned formula companies prime access to hospitals and new mothers. But those wanting to breastfeed would do well to beware of any sort of “breastfeeding support” from formula companies.

The simple fact is that formula companies are not in the business of supporting breastfeeding, despite what their materials and public face may suggest. Every single piece of breastfeeding information produced by a formula company has one goal, and it is not to help women breastfeed. By providing breastfeeding support, formula companies are executing a brilliant branding program – putting their brand name in front of new mothers, and either directly or indirectly indicating that “just in case” breastfeeding doesn’t work out, mothers should turn to their product.

Think about it… if breastfeeding support from formula companies was effective enough to actually lead to less formula use, they would be putting themselves out of business. Does this seem like a smart business model? Formula companies continue these aggressive marketing campaigns for one simple reason – they ultimately make money by leading to more formula sales, not more breastfeeding.

If one were trying to quit smoking, attending a free support group would be a great benefit. But if that support group were sponsored by a cigarette company, while it may even give correct information, chances are it would not appropriately discuss the criminal way throughout the years that cigarettes have addicted users and marketed to minors. It would probably provide fairly limited information on pitfalls during the process. And when smokers falter, they might even remember how kind that company was to try to help them, and give that brand a try. Smokers would do better to take a fee-based class offered by, for example, a cancer society or insurance company, who actually has a vested interest (even a financial interest) in a smoker’s actual success in quitting.

Formula companies will never paint formula as anything but an “alternative” to breast milk. They will never discuss the ways in which formula is inherently inferior, nor will any breastfeeding support from formula companies help mothers to appropriately explore how to overcome the myriad of barriers they may encounter in the hospital, at the workplace, or in the community. Instead they’ll teach how to “successfully supplement” to address these issues and keep on breastfeeding too (this hardly ever works… even occasional formula use generally leads to an earlier end to breastfeeding as well as disrupts the infant’s natural intestinal balance that breastfeeding supports, reducing breastfeeding’s benefits and thus some of its appeal).

Be sure when seeking out breastfeeding support to consider the source. Flip over those breastfeeding guides the hospital provides and see if they come from a formula manufacturer. If so, toss that guide and find better information, ideally from a Certified Lactation Educator or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), La Leche League or a mother who has breastfed exclusively. Hospitals use these guides because budgets are tight and they are free, but they are not appropriate support for a breastfeeding mother.

Breastfeeding support from a formula company is like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may look like support, it may sound like support, but the goal of a formula company is to sell formula, not to promote breastfeeding. If it wasn’t working, they wouldn’t keep doing it.

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