Time to Blow the Whistle on “Mommy Wars”
Last week we celebrated the second “Normalize Breastfeeding Day” as five Mayors across the country took a stand for breastfeeding families worldwide. Unfortunately, only hours into the full-day event schedule, the event was accidentally cancelled according to Facebook Customer Service. This accident removed 933 users who RSVP’d from the event and instantly deleted 3000 shares of content that had accrued during the months that the event had been active. It was an extremely difficult day, full of confusion, frustration, yes..so many tears. Thankfully, I was surrounded by amazing team of Virtual Co-hosts who kept the day focused and right on track through their LIVE broadcasts throughout the day. The Saturday leading into the event. however, it was brought to my attention that a few of the co-hosts were companies currently in violation of the WHO Code. Promotion of the WHO Code is huge part of our international event. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is an international health policy framework for breastfeeding promotion adopted by the World Health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1981. The code is a living document that was published to further promote and protect breastfeeding all around the world. The acts that violate the code are simple; however they are packaged in an very complex manner.
Understanding Its Purpose
There are actions that you can choose to follow or ignore regard the promotion and marketing of [breast and] breast milk substitutes. Companies that make bottles, teats, and infant formula are not automatically regarded as WHO Code violators. It is the how, the where, the when, and the why that makes their marketing strategies overly aggressive. These advertising methods endanger families by leading them to believe that there are absolutely no [harmful] differences between breast and bottle feeding. The document does not condemn the use of such products; rather, its purpose is to create balance in the advertisement world regarding pregnant and nursing mothers. Consider advertisements on social media and advertisements that are embedded into blogs: new moms are targeted through “bots” that collect and store information about what is typed into a browser. If she posts about being pregnant, she will begin to see ads like this one (below) that appeared in the sidebar of a new mother’s news feed.
The Earlier the Better
Mothers are learning about breastfeeding too late in life. They are introduced to artificial replacements for themselves before even learning about their own fascinating capability to nourish babies with milk that is produced just because they gave birth. This provision is often overlooked until the mother enrolls into a childbirth education class. She may spend a short time learning and discussing the biological purpose of the breast and she may be asked about her decision regarding the matter. The truth is that breastfeeding is a normal life process just as much as the birth of the baby is normal. The safer birth experience a mother has can also lead to a great breastfeeding journey; however, like my personal breastfeeding story that is not always the case. Breastfeeding can and should be introduced to girls in elementary school when they are taught in private about their coming menstrual cycles. This is a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment that gives them the education and exposure to learn more about the development of the breast as they mature into young women.
The “Mommy Wars”
From viral social-media blowback, to clever advertisements that try to pit mothers against one another it is not surprising that over time this notion of the “mommy wars” developed. New mothers are struggling to bond with their children before rushing back to work only because the US doesn’t offer paid family leave. These moms can often feel isolated, stressed out, and overwhelmed with the competitive and judgemental environment that they discover as they attempt to embrace motherhood. It is only natural that a mother who has faced difficulty, lacks support, or is completely uneducated about breastfeeding would “team up” with other moms in the same situation. The camaraderie is a necessary tool for all mothers to find their way. For clarification, there is no right way. Every pregnancy, every birth, every baby, and every mother is different. There is no place whatsoever for judgment or criticism because at the end of the day, that mother is responsible for her own baby/babies and no one else’s.
Code Violator = Enemy of the State
No matter how much they “support breastfeeding,” companies who are in violation of this code of ethics, or have even been charged for their violations openly yet refuse to change have sided with an enormous enemy of the state (of mothers and babies that is). These companies are not here to hold hands and explain to how breast milk production works. They will, instead, refer moms to their “endless research” proving how close to a bottle’s nipple function is to that of a mother’s. It is their job to educate moms about the the similarities between the newest NON-GMO infant formula and human milk. Ironically, our society is incredibly open to it even with our horrific maternal death rate and under-average breastfeeding rate as a whole country. Every word and photograph is carefully crafted to help mothers everywhere feel great about giving their baby something that has been proven to be inferior as far as nutritional complexity, digestible protein content, and antibodies that only human milk can provide.
By choosing to ignore the WHO Code and all that it protects, violators are doing a disservice to the very community that they claim to support. These companies are offering false and misleading information to parents before they have even received the proper lactation education. This is the number one reason that so many mothers give up on breastfeeding when they reach obstacles that CAN be overcome. With close attention and guidance from peer counselors, lactation counselors, and/or International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) can even help a mother relactate after her milk seems to have dried up completely. Infant formula is amazing in the right context AND when you have access to clean drinking water. It is a formula, or recipe, created to nourish babies when a mother has exceeded her personal efforts or has simply chosen to do so. However, an even healthier feeding alternative before making the switch is….wait for it…..another mother’s breast milk! That’s right human milk is available for human babies all around the world. Generations ago many mothers even sought out a wet nurse, or another lactating mother to nurse her baby and this practice is making a comeback today.
Gross? Disgusting? Yet, the baby is satisfied, remains under the protection of the antibodies provided by the human milk, and the mother doesn’t have to worry about her baby dying due to malnutrition. Fast forward to the twentieth century. Women are now part of the work force and the demands to get back to work after having a baby are very real. This transition of women into the workplace called for scientists to find alternatives for human milk. It’s possible that mothers took a deep sigh of relief at first. And why not? Every mother deserves a break! The woman pictured above is bottle-feeding donated breast milk to her nephew after his mother passed away suddenly from cardiac arrest. Although she could have chosen to switch him to a brand of artificial infant formula, she honored her sister’s breastfeeding goal of at least one year by accepting over 4500 ounces of donated milk. She surpassed his mother’s goal as the breast milk lasted until he was 14 months old.
So Who Declared War on Moms Anyway?
The enemy here is not formula, it’s not the bottle, it’s not the teat (nipple) or even the Keurig-style bottle maker – the enemy is big business.They have declared war on mothers who offer their children sustainability, immunity, and the opportunity to thrive, only to profit at their expense. Profit over priority promotes lifestyle over life itself. Mothers everywhere have breastfed since the beginning of time. It wasn’t until the producers of such products began using predatory marketing gimmicks that led mothers to begin to question the amount of milk they could produce.
Picture this scenario, 2 mothers give birth and share a room while they recover. One mother wakes and fills a bottle with a formula brand that she has selected by doing her own research and another mother wakes to pump her breast milk. Who’s going to have a full of bottle of milk to give the baby crying in the middle of the night? These companies are selling quantity over quality. A single teaspoon of breast milk is more beneficial to a newborn baby during those first 24 hours than a full bottle of any brand of man-made formula. NO MATTER how much these companies claim to have a product that is similar to breast milk, formula feeding moms PLEASE remember that they are only interested in the sale. Most of all understand that this war has been declared on both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers alike.
You invest dollars into the growth of their business, yet their investment into the life of your child is none at all. You chose to formula feed? Great! You chose to breastfeed? Awesome! Just be mindful, do your research, watch out for those companies who reel you in as a breastfeeding supporter, yet offer absolutely no counsel about how to keep your baby at the breast. Beware of the companies who try to prevent you from trusting your body and its biological design to provide for the child you have birthed. I have been in both positions and I will openly, honestly say that I support all feeding styles that are in fact chosen by the dedicated parents who research what’s best for their family. I will also address the elephant in the room and remind mothers to be aware of the code, what it stands for, what it protects, and also what it does NOT do. It does not force companies to uphold this ethical standard, and it is not enforced by our government (yet). It simply provides a guide to companies about the frailty of new parents. It is a method to prevent companies from exploiting parents in an effort to enhance their brand. As of 2016, the United States of America is one of 6 countries that have expressed little to no effort at all to implement the Code. Everyone knows, but I’ll say it again: breastfeeding is the perfect mixture of nutrition, immunities, vitamins, protein and love that is 100% green. It helps mother and baby to connect immediately after birth. Human milk is the optimal choice for a human baby and breast milk comes from the source – the mother. It is irreplaceable, and if parents choose a substitute for infant feeding they themselves are not in violation of the code, the violators are the companies who choose aggressive marketing schemes to mislead and misinform parents to eventually purchase their products and uphold their brand.