Predatory Marketing in Breastfeeding in America

“I had never seen a mom breastfeed her baby in real life. When I was a teen, I babysat and bottle fed the babies I watched. I have several nieces and nephews but my sisters didn’t breastfeed. So there we were, my son and me, with no idea how it all worked. I wasn’t just scared, I was terrified.”

Due to predatory marketing in breastfeeding, many American mothers have never actually seen a woman breastfeed.

Our brains learn best by watching and with mentoring, so a good way to learn is by watching others and learning from them. In cultures where everyone breastfeeds, women still have difficulty learning, but because everyone around them breastfeeds and helps them, they work through their challenges and keep breastfeeding.

Our culture boasts of family values, yet there is little cultural support, let alone corporate support, for the breastfed baby.

Instead, bottles and pacifiers go hand-in hand with babies. They are visible everywhere: in babies’ mouths, on t-shirts, gift bags, party decorations, baby gifts, advertisements, health insurance brochures and doctor’s offices. The result is that at 6 months, only 13% of our babies are exclusively breastfed.

“Here’s a bag, just-in-case breastfeeding doesn’t work.”

Many hospitals no longer give new moms a promotional bag with bottles of formula and pacifiers. But, corporations sell their product at nearly any human or ecological cost. We freely promote corporate goods by using branded gifts and products. This is not a problem if you are freely choosing to do this, but we are talking about predatory marketing in breastfeeding.

This corporate branding sorts us into our social groups.

Many people enthusiastically wear their favorite sports team on their shirt or hat. We buy our sneakers to display certain logos. Everyone can see how much we love this brand or that brand. We generally are free to choose which brands we promote and we are not under duress when we choose “our products”.

Nuk or Natursutten? Enfamil or Similac? Spectra or Medela? Target or Glamourmom? Corporate branding provides a class system through the display of corporate logos. And it permeates every molecule of American culture. There is even an “unbranded” culture — a social group that has no corporate brand–exclusive breastfeeders.

Ads tell us that this pump has the most comfort and these milk bags have the fewest chemicals. We understand that this claim may or may not be true. It certainly isn’t a life or death decision, like choosing a milk for your baby.

Have you heard about “The Code?”

“The Code” is the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code helps to protect vulnerable parents and innocent babies from predatory and exploitative marketing. In this case, the promoting formula and bottle nipples using untrue statements, which exploits parents of babies and children. You may have already figured out that the United States of America does not use The Code in protective laws.

Predatory marketing in breastfeeding is not informed consent.

A breastfeeding mother is vulnerable. She is worried about her baby being hungry and needs guidance to protect her baby’s need to breastfeed. New babies breastfeed many, many times a day. Most new mothers assume this means that they don’t have enough milk, or that their milk is deficient. Sometimes mothers don’t have enough milk and their babies do need more food.

But what kind of food is best in this situation, mother’s milk or commercial formula?

We can’t make this choice without knowing more about mother and baby and how they breastfeed. We can’t assume the mother is unable to make more milk without examination and a care plan that promotes and protects breastfeeding.

Before a doctor prescribes formula, they need to observe mother and baby breastfeeding. They need to counsel for positioning, latch, and normal infant needs. When they skip this step, they are engaging in predatory marketing.

Your doctor is telling you, without any evidence, that formula feeding is in your best interest.

Your doctor is influenced by pharmaceutical companies selling formula.

Pharmaceutical companies visit your pediatrician regularly and provide samples of formula and medications. They provide “Lunch and Learns”. Doctors receive iPads with lessons on how to sell formula. Big Pharma provides breastfeeding education in conjunction with formula education for a whiff of ethics. There is no Corporation of Breastfeeding stopping by weekly to teach your pediatrician about breastfeeding.

How do you get around this?

The secret is in breastfeeding communities. When women are friends with other women who breastfeed, they talk. They share information, learn, troubleshoot, enjoy and continue breastfeeding. They know who to call when you need help, so your baby isn’t hungry.

All over America, there are sub-cultures of breastfeeding families everywhere for you to discover.  Don’t follow the example of the pioneer woman living alone on the prairie. There is a new wonderful world awaiting when you join or create a breastfeeding community.

Where is my local breastfeeding community?

The Breastfeeding Café is right here!

If you are in the Mid-Hudson Region of New York, contact Donna Bruschi, IBCLC for support groups.

While you are pregnant or when you are out with your baby, look for breastfeeding-friendly resources in your community. Places like playgrounds, libraries, public spaces, play spaces, cafés and stores are hubs where breastfeeding women gather.

Look for breastfeeding support groups at hospitals, WIC offices, baby stores, community centers, on Meetup.com, in OB/GYN’s, midwives’ and lactation consultants’ offices. 

Join La Leche League or another breastfeeding support group and attend meetings starting in your first or second trimester.

If there are none, start one.

Become an advocate for breastfeeding in your life and community. Host a ‘Big Latch On’ or participate in a ‘Live Love Latch’ event during World Breastfeeding Week to raise awareness in your community.

If you can’t find a breastfeeding support group, start one. Join Meetup.com, or put up a flyer at your local doctor’s office, church, library children’s room or preschool.

Updated: February 27, 2022

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