WHO/UNICEF release scathing report, call to action on formula marketing


The World Health Organization and UNICEF have released their long-awaited report on formula marketing. According to the report, “Formula milk is a US $55 billion per year industry that systematically undermines parents’ infant feeding decisions and compromises women’s and children’s health and human rights.” It also states, “Marketing of formula is emblematic of marketing of other products such as tobacco or gambling that prioritize sales over health and well-being.”

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Rhode Island Birthing Hospitals End Baby Formula Giveaways


Providence, Rhode Island — As part of efforts to support breastfeeding mothers, women who give birth in Rhode Island will no longer receive infant formula marketing packs when they head home from the hospital. Rhode Island’s First Lady, Stephanie Chafee, Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Roberts, RI Department of Health Director, Michael Fine, and Marsha Walker from the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition’s Ban the Bags campaign joined the Rhode Island Health Department Monday November 28, 2011 in celebrating the state’s becoming the first in the nation to eliminate the distribution of infant formula marketing bags in all of Rhode Island’s birthing hospitals.

Director Fine, the Lt. Governor as well as the First Lady spoke of their commitment to breastfeeding families and their support of the hospitals’ efforts in this giant step forward in removing the commercial barriers to breastfeeding. State health officials noted that studies link giveaways to decreased breastfeeding rates, which is not in keeping with their efforts to promote optimal health for mothers and infants in Rhode Island.

For more information, see coverage in USA Today.

Did your hospital set you up to succeed?

According to a recent CDC survey, US hospitals are falling short when it comes to breastfeeding support. Formula marketing bags are just one of the obstacles that new mothers may face in the first few days after birth. What’s to be done? You can start by writing a letter to your hospital to share your experiences, good and bad, during your maternity stay. Tonya Lieberman offers tips on how to make an impact on the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog.

With pressure on hospitals, formula companies seek new marketing outlets

Facing pressure from mothers and professional groups to limit hospital-based marketing, formula companies are looking for new partners to pitch their products.  

Mothers continue to receive uninvited coupons and samples mailed to their homes — according to a recent CDC study, nearly 2/3 of first-time mothers received a free sample of infant formula in the mail .  

Industry marketers continue to reach mothers through mailing lists sold by baby product manufacturers or maternity retailers. In the hospitals, some mothers have reported that baby photo companies are providing addresses to the formula industry to pitch their products to moms.

The industry seems to be extending that strategy to small businesses: we’ve had reports that businesses catering to young families, such as baby photo studios, are handing out formula samples and coupons to clients. In one case, the owner of a photo studio confirmed that a formula representative had approached her about distributing their marketing materials. In another case, a photo company that takes newborn photos in the hospital was connecting with at least one formula manufacturer to share contact information of new parents.

Where have you seen formula handouts in your community? And what can we do to educate businesses about the financial costs and health risks of marketing branded formula to new mothers?  

Can a formula company give good breastfeeding advice?

Studies show that formula marketing bags shorten exclusive breastfeeding duration, even when the formula samples are removed from the bags. How does that work? It’s simple – but subtle. Industry-manufactured “breastfeeding support guides” offer advice that undermines mothers and promotes artificial breastmilk substitutes, as Erin explains beautifully in her guest blog, Helping Themselves: Breastfeeding Advice Nestle-Style.

Breaking news: Formula company capable of shame

Mead Johnson pulls “Breast milk formula” web page title

June 23, 2009– Mead Johnson hit new lows this past week, calling Lipil ‘The Breast Milk Formula” on its web site. The title to the web page was changed to ‘Enfamil “ ‘Lipil” following a concerted campaign by breastfeeding activists to contact the Federal Trade Commission.


Mead Johnson’s advertising is already under review by the FTC for overstating the health benefits from added fatty acids DHA/ARA. With the recent “breast milk formula” ploy, Mead Johnson sank to new lows, essentially claiming that infant formula is the same thing as human milk.

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Formula company pitches workplace “breastfeeding support”

In another cynical move to market formula in the guise of breastfeeding support, Abbott Labs has partnered with Working Mother magazine to create a “workplace breastfeeding support” kit. Blogging in The Huffington Post, Dr. Melissa Bartick explains why businesses should steer clear of formula propaganda, and instead use the Business Case for Breastfeeding, a federally-funded workplace lactation support program.

Gourmet Magazine Blog tackles formula marketing

Writing in “The Kid’s Menu,” Lesley Porcelli describes how she and her baby resisted a barrage of formula handouts and industry-endorsing health care providers to breastfeed successfully. She writes, “The world seems to start pushing formula on mothers at the moment of conception. But what if you just want your baby to drink breast milk?” Read the article.

Ban the Bags featured in Dr. Hale’s newsletter

Marsha Walker exposes formula company tactics in her article, Formula Company Discharge Bags: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:

Sampling gets the product into the hands of the consumer, provides for its easy use at the first sign of breastfeeding roadblocks, and starts the process of early weaning – the perfect setup for creating a market where none existed before.

New mothers get mixed messages

Hospitals provide formula sample packs while medical organizations encourage breastfeeding

CHICAGO—A majority of U.S. hospitals on the East coast distribute formula sample packs to new mothers, contrary to recommendations from most major medical organizations concerned about the potential for distributing these packs to reduce breastfeeding rates, according to a report in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. However, the practice is changing significantly.

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CDC report: Most hospitals market formula, undermine breastfeeding

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released results from a national survey of US maternity centers showing that 70 percent of birth facilities continue to market formula to new mothers, undermining health recommendations. In an editorial note accompanying the study, published in the journal “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” the authors comment:

Facilities should consider discontinuing these practices to provide more positive influences on breastfeeding initiation and duration.

For more information on mPINC, read the press release from the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition.