by Kasey Valentine-Steffen
For 33 years, formula corporations have violated the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 21, 1981. To mark the WHO Code Anniversary this year, HealthConnect One joined Public Citizen in a Campaign to Stop Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities, and we invited our community partners and allies to speak about their experience here on the blog.
This is the second of four guest posts on the topic.
I am currently working with WIC as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and received my IBCLC in 2013. I became a Peer Counselor because I wanted to help moms the way I was helped. I was blessed to be part of a mommy group, facilitated by a childbirth educator and IBCLC. They were a big part of my “village” and I wanted to make sure other moms had the opportunity to find their “village.”
When I speak to moms in the hospital, I like to keep it simple. To steal a quote from one of my mentors – “feed the baby, clean the baby, love the baby” – in that order. I like to discuss the next few days: colostrum, breast changes, hand expression, baby belly size and most importantly, ways to tell if the baby is getting enough breastmilk, and who to contact if they have questions.
I do find the community is very much impacted by artificial baby milk. Breastfeeding seems to be a lost art. Young women today rarely know of anyone that Breastfed their babies. Though I was fully Breastfeeding when I was discharged from the hospital, I was given a super nice diaper bag with formula in it. The nurse said, “I want to be able to give you something for you to take home. You can just throw the formula out if you don’t need it.” Around six weeks, I learned what a growth spurt was. I threw that formula out. I threw it out into the middle of the yard because I knew if I looked at it for one more second, I was going to give “just one bottle.” The nurse was a loving and compassionate soul, as most Labor and Delivery workers are; she just wanted to give me something “nice.”
When I work with moms prenatally, I often ask what kind of freebies they have gotten in the mail. The most recent and most discouraging is the educational information on formula that is labeled for “breastmilk supplementing” – the catch phrase is something about when you need to supplement along with breastmilk. It seems to play on “when your breastmilk just isn’t enough.” Well-played, formula companies. Women in the prenatal stage weren’t scared enough. (Note sarcasm.)
The marketing of artificial breastmilk targets those new families who are exhausted and overwhelmed. They see the very unrealistic formula ad of the half naked flawless mother and perfect smiling baby on the black background… They look in the mirror and say, “I want to look like that, give me some of that.” It’s just not the reality and it harms more than the feeding decision. It gives moms and dads a false reality and can do a lot of damage to the new family unit.
The formula gift pack makes me angry. It is a strategic play by the formula companies to sabotage a mom’s milk supply. People argue that I’m taking away a mother’s right to formula feed when I help get formula gift bags out of hospitals, but that’s not the case at all. It is the mother’s choice. Just as she chose and brought the outfit for her baby to wear home from the hospital, she can bring her feeding preference as well.
To new parents, I say, “I have been there. I support your decision to feed your baby however you choose, and thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. Do me a favor and never make a decision in the dark of night. You may feel like you are the only person awake, feeding an upset baby in the middle of the night… you are not. Let’s make it through this day and we’ll figure everything else out when the sun comes up.”
I love artificial baby milk.
Before its creation, babies would die, mothers would suffer, daddies would never get to hold their children…
…but I hate formula companies. They do very little to help women grow into mothers. They offer a false sense of reality and prey on a mother’s guilt. These companies spend countless dollars to weaken the Breastfeeding relationship so they can see profit.
Overall, the marketing of artificial breastmilk takes advantage of vulnerable women, and though I can’t fight dollar for dollar, each woman I work with will know that I will fight for her and build her up regardless of her feeding decision.
I’m not looking for a profit.
I’m looking to help women become the mothers they want to be.
Kasey Valentine-Steffen, IBCLC, works as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor with WIC. She earned her IBCLC in 2013, and is a strong advocate for a mother’s right to choose what is best for her baby and her family.
HealthConnect One is committed to sharing a variety of perspectives on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. Each guest post reflects the writer’s experience, and is not necessarily the view of HealthConnect One.