Day of Action: Keep Infant Formula Advertising Out of Healthcare Facilities

May 20, 2014


As an active member of the breastfeeding community for nearly two decades I have seen so much marketing of formula from a personal place and for new parents. The marketing gets more and more clever and nefarious each day.

I was once helping a mom and baby in an apartment building in New York City where one has to be buzzed in. I was with this family for about an hour and a half. The buzzer never buzzed and the doorbell never rang. Upon my departure I nearly fell over a box of formula. The mom had not ordered this.

Currently infant formula manufacturers make formula specifically for breastfeeding moms. Why? Is it really different? Breastfeeding is the biggest market competitor for formula companies.

It was very exciting for me when, in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg took the marketing of formula out of New York City hospitals. Many people were upset by this action. They claimed that they were being bullied into breastfeeding. They were angry that they were not getting their “free” gift from the hospital. This was not the case at all.

What they did not realize is that by giving these “free” gift bags the citizens and patients were actually paying for these goodies.

When a hospital gives away promotional items they are endorsing this product and they are using human power to handle these items. These “free” gift bags are taking up precious real estate in our already crowded hospitals. This is FREE advertising for the pharmaceutical industry. FREE advertising. Those guys have plenty of cash to buy advertising but why spend it when the hospital will do it for free?

In May of 1980 the 27th World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO/UNICEF recommendation that “There should be an international code of marketing of infant formula and other products used as breast-milk substitutes.”

This is important because we know that breastfeeding rates decline where formula is marketed.

This is not an anti-formula campaign rather it is a recommendation to support healthy outcomes both long term and short term. The campaign is designed to take an ethical approach to promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed babies.

Unfortunately the United States has not agreed to this recommendation.

On this anniversary the Public Citizen’s campaign to End Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities is firing up to bring awareness to the continued marketing of formula in the US.

They are encouraging participants to use social media to get the message across by making signs that say “No Formula Ads in Hospitals” or “Follow the WHO Code.”

As an advocate for breastfeeding families I will join this day of action. What will you do to promote breastfeeding?



9 Responses to “Day of Action: Keep Infant Formula Advertising Out of Healthcare Facilities”

  1. Lisa Says:

    I disagree with you when it comes to educated families who are able to make informed decisions. Furthermore, the science behind the benefits of breastfeeding is not fool-proof nor without much bias. Sorry, but your stance is too extreme and doesn’t account for women who are tired of having breastfeeding shoved down their throats and being made to feel guilty a) if they have low supply, b) if they adopt, and c) if they just don’t like doing it.

    • Lisa,

      Breastfeeding is such an emotional topic. I am an IBCLC and a mom. I have supported thousands of families in parenting. I do not judge. If you read what I wrote you will see that I am simply requesting that the marketing of formal should not be at the expense of the people. If breast-feeding is normalized we would not have these “debates.” The science behind breastfeeding is solid. I am sorry this struck a nerve with you. A big problem in our culture is that it does not support mothers and babies let alone breastfeeding. Education around women’s health is dismal. Maternity leave is sad. I hope you will take a moment and look at the reality of the marketing of all pharmaceuticals in our nation.
      ~Leigh Anne

    • LIsa,

      Do you think it is ethical of hospitals an dither health care facilities to give free marketing to pharmaceuticals? Or any products?

  2. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for your reply Leigh Anne. I don’t find your argument convincing that the marketing is at the expense of the people – the pharmaceutical companies are providing a product (that costs them money to make – so it’s not techinically “free”) and the patient has the option to take it or leave it. How are citizens and patients paying for this?? Hospital real estate? I think that is a very simple analysis of how health care works in this country. I think both the option to breastfeed and formula feed should be offered in hospitals – not one to the exclusion of another. (In addition, the WHO message was intended to be aimed at developing/ poverty stricken nations without clean drinking water etc. and not so much the USA).

    The science behind breastfeeding is far from solid and to say otherwise is to mislead society. In the science there are confounding factors: lack of double-blind studies (the scientist know which moms are breastfeeding and which are not which creates bias); that studies do not show cause and effect (i.e. intervention studies are not ethically possible), but mere correlations; the studies are observational (ie. moms were not randomly assigned to a breastfeeding or not breastfeeding group), the list goes on…

    I suggest you read the following US Dept of Health information to educate yourself especially if you are a lactation consultant:

    Click to access brfout.pdf

    I appreciate your passion and sentiment, and I do agree that this society does not support women and children as much as it should.

    • Lisa,

      I am not sure what your background and history are but you seem quite passionate about formula feeding.

      It would be very unethical to do a study and assign different feeding methods to different babies.
      Babies die every day in developed countries as a result of not being fed human milk.

      There is solid research on the difference between breastfed and non-breastfed children and adults.
      Let me show you these:


      /Users/robleon/Desktop/Leigh, LC/Risks of not breastfeeding.pdf

      This is not a judgement about mothering – it is educating and making informed choice.

      As an IBCLC it is my business to stay on top of the research which I do. I am aware of junk science and unethical funding of studies.

      The above is just a drop in the bucket of the evidence of health outcomes.

      • Lisa Says:

        Thanks for your response Leigh-Anne,

        I am not passionate for or against formula feeding, or for or against breastfeeding. But what I am passionate about is the dissemination of correct information. I don’t consider the US Dept of Health to be junk science – it reviewed approx. 9,000 breastfeeding study abstracts to reach its conclusion which state there are many confounding factors with the science behind the findings (as i listed in my above post). Referencing the odd study here and there that shows the benefits of breastfeeding is not entirely “solid science” as it does not provide a proper indication of what the totality of the evidence suggests. And making sensationalist statements such as “Babies die every day in developed countries as a result of not being fed human milk” is not responsible. The US Dept of Health specifically states: “Similarly, it was also unclear concerning the relationship between breastfeeding and infant mortality in developed countries.” And rightly so, because one could never prove such causation.

        I believe pesticides, carcinogenic food dyes, and GMOs will likely have much more hazardous effects in the long term on our children’s health than whether or not they were breastfed.

        I like reading your website articles and appreciate the discussion we’ve had.

  3. Eva Seidelman Says:

    To all that want to understand how it is possible to support formula feeding moms and oppose formula marketing (especially in healthcare facilities), I would suggest reading this Best for Babes blog post that deals with the issue:

  4. Thank you for your post, Leigh Anne.

    It’s also vital that we remember the environments where breastmilk substitutes are the most heavily marketed: to those mothers of our nation’s (and our world’s) most fragile babies. Did you see Kimberly Seals Allers’s brilliant post about what’s happening in Detroit?

    The illusion that infant feeding is about “personal choice” is just that — an illusion that these companies have served us up on a silver platter. This is about privilege. When a socioeconomically comfortable white woman demands that breastmilk substitutes continue to be marketed in healthcare facilities “because of choice,” she is completely disregarding her own role in the ill health of countless babies.

    Breastfeeding doesn’t need to be defended by research. It is the biological norm. Thus far, no substitute has been supported by science to produce similar health outcomes in all situations. The privileged white woman who believes and shares that the difference in outcomes by infant feeding methods is insignificant and wants policies to be all about her is in essence saying “the other determinants of health in my life mean my baby and I get options your baby and you don’t get.” How is this OK? (It’s not)

    Taking the breastmilk substitutes out of hospitals doesn’t restrict their use; it limits how they are represented to consumers. Research demonstrates that this marketing is confusing and misleading to mothers:

    Presuming that all families have the privilege of having access to, knowing, and choosing what might mean the difference between life and death for their babies is closed-minded. What protects the most vulnerable among us improves outcomes for us all. Thank you again, Leigh Anne, for adding your voice to this vitally important chorus.

    • Diana,

      Thank you for your reply and for more information that is vital to consumers.

      It is never a good idea for health care facilities to offer free marketing for products, particularly those that compromise health!

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