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Sunday
Nov202011

Infant formula advertising DOES influence mothers 

Advertising is a tricky subject. People claim it is necessary to inform us about the choices we have as consumers. People say that putting restrictions on it goes against the principles of free speech. People claim that we are smart and we can see past the the marketing spin. To say otherwise, is to call people stupid.

Because, c'mon, who really believed that Nutella was a part of a nutritious breakfast? You didn't, did you? We're all smart enough to see past that and read the labels. So the mom who did believe it, she must be the one who is stupid. Smart people don't fall for ads. So despite the German courts  ruling that Nutella's nutrition claims are misleading, the problem isn't so much with the manipulative ads, but with stupid people who believe them. If we could get rid stupid people, manipulative ads would totally be okay.

The advertisers are smart though. They know that ads work. They know that either smart people do fall for ads often enough or that there are enough stupid people out there to make them worthwhile. They don't need a study to prove that. They have years and years of first hand experience. They know that everyone has moments of weakness and gaps in knowledge and they know that those are opportunities to influence.

But some people may need a study to convince them of this. Some people believe that formula ads don't influence a woman's choice of how to feed her baby. The ads simply inform mothers who have chosen formula about the products that are available. That might, arguably, be useful to some women if the claims made by formula companies were accurate (but the Canadian government says they are not).  But that isn't the extent of the problem. You see, formula ads do actually influence how a mother chooses to feed her baby.

A study by six researchers from the World Health Organization, that was published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, found that both formula ads and doctors suggestions to use formula did influence mothers feeding choices:

According to their findings, 59.1 percent of the mothers recalled an infant formula advertisement message and one-sixth reported a doctor recommended using formula. Those who recalled an ad message were twice as likely to feed their babies infant formula, while whose advised by a doctor where four times as likely to do so.


Twice as likely. Yes, moms who saw a formula ad were twice as likely to feed their babies formula. And with regards to the doctors, when Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat, Black Art on CBC Radio 1, suggested that more doctors need to tell moms to try formula, I responded over at Best for Babes with a post called Is "Try Formula" the Answer to Breastfeeding Guilt, where I concluded that:

There is a big gaping hole between “Thou Shalt Breastfeed” and “Try Formula”. The gaping hole needs to be filled with affordable, accessible, quality breastfeeding support. Instead, that hole is too frequently filled with pressure and guilt, from society and from within.

I don’t think that mothers need to be told that they must breastfeed and I also don’t think that mothers need to be told that they must try formula. What would happen if, instead of feeling the need to TELL mothers what to, health professionals simply asked: “How can I support you in your feeding decision?” From there, the conversation needs to combine compassion and knowledge, supporting the mother while also answering her questions and educating her without judgement or pressure.


Back to the formula ads. Yes, infant formula ads on articles and websites about infant feeding bother me. Not because I think women are stupid, but because I know that humans are human. They are vulnerable and emotional and get drawn into things that are shiny and pretty and helpful and easy and supposedly good for us. I know this because I am human too and while I resisted the allure of formula ads, there are other ads that do draw me in and cause me to make purchases that I wish I hadn't . But maybe I'm just weak or stupid.

So for the weak or stupid people out there (or for the humans), I would support a legislated ban of infant formula advertising as recommended by the World Health Organization. But in the absence of a law, I would also support publishers and broadcasters who are willing to take a stand and not allow infant formula advertising or, at the very least, not allow infant formula advertising on websites and publications that are aimed specifically at the mothers of babies. Not because formula is evil, but because moms who have chosen to breastfeed deserve a fighting chance and shouldn't be bombarded with booby traps every time they turn around.

Image credit: M J M on flickr

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Reader Comments (63)

Can you provide a link to support the claim that formula increases risk of death 4-6 fold in first two months?

November 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAra v.

I am pro breastfeeding and support the stance that advertising formula should be regulated by law, but I alao agree that support must be given for a woman's feeding choices. It's not as cut and dry as breastfeed only or formula feed only. I supplemented with formula for the first week of my baby's life because I had no milk at all, despite latching her on or the constant pumping. There was no donar milk available fir it was needed for the needier babies. My choices were formula or starvation for my baby. What would anyone choose? I chose formula until my milk came in, then I chose to exclusively breastfeed...and I'm proud to say that my baby is 14 months old and still breastfeedin.

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErlinda

I am pro breastfeeding and support the stance that advertising formula should be regulated by law, but I alao agree that support must be given for a woman's feeding choices. It's not as cut and dry as breastfeed only or formula feed only. I supplemented with formula for the first week of my baby's life because I had no milk at all, despite latching her on or the constant pumping. There was no donar milk available for it was needed for the needier babies. My choices were formula or starvation for my baby. What would anyone choose? I chose formula until my milk came in, then I chose to exclusively breastfeed...and I'm proud to say that my baby is 14 months old and still breastfeeding.

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErlinda

Interesting to read how much powers the big corporations have over legislation in America. In Holland, where I live, no one is allowed to advertise formula for children under 6 months, and that works fine. Everyone knows where to get formula when you need it- it's available in stores-, but the companies and stores cannot advertise it.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiselotte

In all likelihood your baby would have been fine without formula during that week. My milk didn't come in until day 5 and my daughter was just fine with colostrum. We need to educate women about colostrum and how babies will be okay with it until milk comes in for a few days. It's packed with nutrition and babies' stomachs are so tiny they don't need ounces of formula or breast milk in the first week.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I never did connect with the LLL. I'd heard a lot about it as a resource - my local hospital's childbirth class actually recommends them as a resource and I'd also even then read some people online who recommended them. But when I searched for web sites - none of my local groups met at any time friendly to working mothers. Call a complete stranger whose meetings I can't even make, who is as far as I can tell just another parent? Maybe not. No hint on their web site or anywhere that there was a national helpline. And I admit, I wonder what one can do to check a latch over the phone anyway.

When I read postings on the net - most of what I saw was fairly strident lactivists and I was afraid of being judged. Including from some people who spoke strongly about LLL.

When I had my son, I supplemented with formula before going to all-breastfeeding because he was large and the hospital LC told me he needed it. And everything I'd seen from the pro-breastfeeding community said "trust the LC more than the pediatrician" - so I did, even though his pediatrician said he probably didn't need it. Of course, later they said "oh, we only meant IBCLCs!" Which I had never heard of.

Still have never been to an LLL meeting, likely never will, because as far as I know they're all still scheduled at times I can't get to except in my first weeks off. (And I couldn't get to it THEN with my firstborn for a variety of reasons.) Maybe with the new little one (due any day now!) I could, but now I know somewhat what I'm doing, and why would I want to get connected to a group of people who I then won't be able to continue to meet with anyway?

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I haven't read most of the comments (yet!) but one of them made me think of this: can you imagine a world in which a sitcom with a baby shows a mom nursing (ideally without even making it a plotline)?

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGinger Baker

while what you say is true- colostrum is packed with nutrients and is a high energy food, many babies can and do in fact 'starve' in the first week if there are delays in milk supply or other issues happening, so it really depends on the individual mother/baby pair rather than a blanket 'babies will be ok in the first week' for all.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpaula brasovan

In studies in Ghana and Ecuador, all of 10,000 mothers were able to breastfeed. Mothers in both countries had high malnutrition rates. Thus, virtually every mother has the physiologic capacity to breastfeed.

Some breast enhancement surgery interferes with the nerves around the areola and impede the let down reflex (which I have never come across in my work in developing countries). Other than that, when I run across mother's whose "milk supply hasn't come in," 100% were given prelacteal feeds and were continuing to get formula.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAuthor

breastfeeding, unlike formula feeding, doesn't require anything besides a mom eating healthy. i breastfed for just under two years, and never used a pump, or cream, or even pads and nursing bras (i am very small chested, even through breastfeeding, and hardly ever wore bras to begin with). most moms would require a little mroe than i did, but it just goes to show, there is money to be made with formula but not so much with breastfeeding.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteramaru

[...] formula ads that kept popping up whenever breastfeeding seemed hard failed [...]

Ban it. Too many stupid people means another generation of low iqs, fat children and diabetes. Ban it for the good of Fat America.

November 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentera user

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