Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Breastfeeding promotion and formula marketing

Formula companies sometimes attempt to use the past tense to describe their heavy-handed marketing campaigns at the expense of breastfeeding. "Sure, we used to do wrong," they might say, "but now we promote breastfeeding."

A breastfeeding advocacy website has an interesting series of reports about industry-sponsored websites that promote formula under the guise of simply offering motherly advice. I read at PR Watch, for example, that Mothering Magazine reports that the Moms Feeding Freedom blog is linked to the International Formula Council. The advocacy website reports that the Moms Feeding Freedom blog has started deleting comments critical of formula industry marketing. Fortunately, archived copies of the original comments are available here.

The site reminds me to link to the Washington Post's excellent coverage last month of a formula industry coup, convincing a federal breastfeeding promotion campaign to tone down its most potent print ads.

The original proposed ad graphically emphasized the association between formula feeding and risk of respiratory disease (click for larger image).

The final ad offered a pointlessly bland graphic, and required close reading to understand the same message.

I imagine some readers may find the original proposed ad too blunt. Addressing that question puts me in a bind as a writer. I can write truthfully: "Some women cannot breastfeed, for medical or employment reasons. Formula is a satisfactory replacement, at least in the United States." But my fingers cringe hovering over my keyboard, because those same true sentences are also industry talking points that are used to exaggerate the hardships of breastfeeding and the quality of formula. You have to read those sentences in the same context with this one: "Almost all women can breastfeed, and breastfeeding is best."

Regardless of which ad you prefer, at least two things are clear as day: the formula industry should not have been given the opportunity to sway the choice of ad, and hospitals should stop routinely giving out bags of formula to new mothers.


Anonymous said...

That first ad is great, the second one a total zero. The Formula companies just have no shame, do they?

Aliza said...

I'm sure you heard, but the NYC public hospitals officially stopped giving out formula samples this July, and instead will give "breast-milk bottle cooler, disposable nursing pads, breastfeeding tips and a baby T-shirt with the slogan “I Eat at Mom’s” emblazoned on the front" and free breast pumps. I guess, as with other things, reform is made on a local basis first.

Anonymous said...

Please don't underestimate the guilt factor that such ads as the originally proposed ads dump on women (such as myself) who cannot breastfeed.

I'm epileptic, and on a heavy dose of my medication. This drug caused severe unsettledness in my daughter, resulting in between up to 10 wake ups a night. It got so bad that we were ready to put her up for adoption, and I ended up in a mental facility being treated for depression. It was only after a long, drawn out hunt for the truth that we realised my medication coming through in the breastmilk was the problem.

We switched my daughter over to bottles immediately at 5 months, and she changed into a different person, and down to 2 wake ups a night. Our family become normal again. I cannot stress the difference it made to our lives, and I have finally bonded with my daughter.

However, when I am out and about, I get crude and nasty comments from other mothers in parents rooms when I am giving her her bottles - people seem to see fit to criticise me for doing what was our only option. They don't know what we went through, but they're smug and arrogant as they say such nasty things and accuse me of abusing my daughter for not breastfeeding her!

I did everything I could to try to breastfeed. In my case it was impossible. Maybe what we need, instead of authorities and the public telling us what to do, is authorities and the public butting out of our private lives, and leaving families to decide - in consultation with trusted medical advisers - what is best for them.