by Toni Hill
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 third of four guest posts on the topic.
Hi. My name is Toni. I have been an unofficial doula since I was 13 years old. After that time, I became more fascinated with birth than any of my teenage counterparts. I have been an official doula since 2002, shortly after having my own empowering birth. I wanted to share the joys of natural birth with all the women I met so I decided to follow my life’s passion.
I have four children whom I breastfed until they outgrew the need: Precious 17, Jimmy 12, Preston 10, and Patience who will be 8 at the end of this month.
I have multiple roles when working with families in my community. I serve as a traditional midwife, doula, childbirth educator, monitrice, and executive director of the Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project. Furthermore, I am a La Leche League leader and a lactation specialist at WIC. I also enjoy my part in advancing the field of maternal and child health by training new community-based doulas and breastfeeding peer counselors.
I have always been fascinated with birth. I attended my first birth when I was thirteen and have been a birth junkie ever since. After the birth of my second child, my interest in birth and breastfeeding grew stronger as I taught myself all I could to be able to support women to have their own empowering birth experiences.
I normally talk to moms about breastfeeding long before they make it to the hospital. We talk about breastfeeding as the normal way to feed their babies as early as the first trimester. I encourage all expectant families to go to a class and become educated about how to get off to a good start with breastfeeding. When I am talking with moms directly after birth about breastfeeding, I guide them to keeping their baby skin to skin and tell them to have patience and to trust that their body can make the milk that their baby needs, just like it has fed their child in utero for the prior months.
Yes, I can talk about the impact of artificial baby milk on my community. I live in Mississippi which is one of the most unhealthy states in the country. One can’t help but wonder if our low breastfeeding rates have anything to do with that. Looking at infant mortality and how breast milk actually saves the lives of many preemies each day, it is an absolute no-brainer.
Just like birthworkers, all hospital staff are not equal in their support of breastfeeding. In my experience, some hospitals that are not leaning towards being more baby friendly are doing an injustice to the mothers and babies they serve. Some of them honestly think that one bottle doesn’t make a difference when we all know that it does. I think if they truly understood what that one bottle does to the baby’s gut flora or the dampen on the supply that happens when a woman is not with her baby, they would reconsider grabbing that bottle so quickly.
The marketing of artificial baby milk is everywhere new mothers are. They see it in most of the baby magazine ads. Most unfortunately, they see it at the doctor’s office as well. One mom recently told me that the office clerk gave her a can of formula for the off-chance she needs it… after she expressed to her that she was planning to breastfeed her new baby. Mothers trust their primary care provider. The message should be clear there that babies thrive on breastmilk and mothers can produce enough for their babies. Instead of giving that can of formula, that was her opportunity to share with the mother valuable resources to support her in her decision to breastfeed.
Yes, I have seen the marketing of artificial baby milk impact a new family’s infant feeding decisions. That free ready-to-feed for supplementing that comes in the mail during the last couple of weeks of pregnancy is one of the biggest marketing schemes that a formula company does.
The mothers who leave the hospital with formula are more likely to use it. When a woman has to go to the store in the middle of the night to purchase formula, she has to really think about it before doing that and is more likely to give breastfeeding a little more patience. She might take the time to pick up the phone and call her lactation support person for some words of advice before making the trip. When the hospital gives the new family formula, they are non-verbally okaying the use of it when times get a little rocky.
I often tell new parents to spend lots of time in with their new baby. This is time they will never get back. I have also responded to those well wishers telling new parents that they are spoiling the baby, that they all smell like that. That time is so precious and so short.
I think as lactation supporters and helpers, we need to be mindful of what the families we serve really need. Ask them what their personal goals are and help them achieve them. When they get close, you can support them in their decision to surpass their goals or to wean when the time is right for them. We have to remember that our job is to educate and inform expectant families about breastfeeding and to support new families in reaching their personal breastfeeding goals.
The act of breastfeeding is done by the baby. As mothers, we are just providing the environment for them to do it.
Toni Hill, Executive Director of Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project, works with HealthConnect One to train community-based doulas and breastfeeding peer counselors for her community. Toni has completed doula training with toLabor (formerly known as ALACE) and Birth Arts, childbirth education training through CAPPA, and advanced midwifery at The Farm. Toni also serves as a WIC Lactation specialist and a La Leche League leader. When she is not helping her community, she is homeschooling her four children with the love and support of Jimmy, her soul mate.
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.