In recent years offering breastfeeding support has gained popularity. Which is a good thing, strange though it is to say. In fact, it’s uncouth to not be supportive of breastfeeding in light of the magnitude of research showing breastfeeding to be so beneficial to babies and mothers. So magazines, websites, even businesses now offer frequent support with articles on breastfeeding, pages devoted to trouble shooting potential breastfeeding problems, staff experts responding to breastfeeding questions, and even live support available online or to call in to speak to someone. In theory it sounds great and in some ways it is. But even in offering support there are opportunities for unsupportive support. And this time it’s a little more unsettling because it comes with resounding financial gains to those offering the support raising the question, is it even support at all? This time in the series on unsupportive support we’re taking a look at the murky waters of advertising support, marketing, and profits. (We’ve already looked at how breastfeeding advocates can offer unsupportive support here.)
How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 7.
Unsupportive support is…
Breastfeeding help hotlines or websites breastfeeding pages sponsored by formula companies.
This one is controversial and I kind of understand why. But the way I see it this is one of societies most insidious forms of unsupportive support. It looks like support. It sounds like support. It is even advertised as support. Except it’s run by a company that profits when breastfeeding moms quit breastfeeding. Maybe I’m cynical but when a company’s profits can be directly tied to how well moms that intended to breastfeed fare in reaching their goal, it just seems a little hard to believe that there are altruistic motives in supporting those moms. When a website that is supposed to be addressing questions about breastfeeding is plastered with a formula company’s brand with images of smiling, peaceful babies presumably fed with their product all the while supporting content that uses carefully selected language about how hard and difficult it can be to breastfeed and give your baby the best, it’s underhanded marketing to someone looking for help. This isn’t support, this is marketing, make no mistake. Formula companies are smart, they would not waste their money sponsoring and creating these sites and helplines if they didn’t feel it increased their branding opportunities and bottom line. I believe women are smart, they can make their own decisions but I also know that there are times when a decision can be influenced one way or another and when someone is in need of help that super happy looking formula fed baby sure is enticing and the wrong information given to address her particular need could be all that is required for the mother to become a regularly paying customer. Which is exactly what this form of unsupportive support is counting on.
Free formula samples in breastfeeding support bag in hospitals and doctor offices.
Another controversial one. Some see removing formula samples from hospital bags and doctor offices as removing a woman’s choice in how she feeds her baby. I don’t understand that argument, the choice is still there, you just have to pay for it upfront. Concern is that not giving out free formula samples is being unsupportive to those that choose to formula feed. That just isn’t the case, not handing formula out to each woman that comes through their doors and gives birth would be more supportive of formula feeding moms in that it would lower the overall expense of formula by the formula companies no longer spending millions on the free samples hospital program. Those free samples aren’t free anyway. They are absorbed in the price of the product, it’s all a part of their business plan. Again, a company would not waste their money handing out free product if it did not yield a return on their brand and profits. Make no mistake, they aren’t handing out free samples to help moms, they are handing out free samples to hook buyers and to give the impression that the hospital endorses their product. These companies are smart, and they should be, they have shareholders and employees to take care of. Formula has it’s place, that’s not the issue here. Nor is there any judgment on formula feeding. Rather the problem is that marketing tactics masquerading as support undermine breastfeeding and do so for a profit. This study reveals how this is unsupportive with numbers such as “Women who didn’t receive the free samples were 3.5 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively after 2 weeks…” (Read more about how the numbers really break down from PhD in Parenting.) Tacticts to get formula into the hands of moms when they are most vulnerable, exhausted, and in that crucial time when milk supply is being established in those early weeks isn’t supporting them in their attempts to breastfeed. Nor is it supporting formula feeding families either, instead, these samples going to everyone leaving the hospital with a new baby drives up the price they have to pay at the register for the next 2 years of formula buying. For those that truly need assistance buying formula to feed their baby, there are options through aid programs that can and should be utilized if necessary and while in the hospital formula should be covered by insurance. Hopefully more and more states will make the decision Rhode Island made recently to refuse to allow formula samples to continue sabotaging breastfeeding and both breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms can find some real support from formula companies just by having them back off, stop undermining breastfeeding, and maybe even lower the register cost for their product by not sending the free stuff home with those that really want to breastfeed. Better idea for support? Sending the name and number of a lactation consultant home with the mother, free access to a lactation consultant during her hospital stay, independent breastfeeding resources, and the information on a breastfeeding support group would be real support.
If you don’t want to breastfeed then don’t. I’d encourage you to try it before you completely make up your mind but if you don’t want to do that, nobody’s going to force you. Your body, your baby, your choice. And I hope nobody undermines your attempts to formula feed. Free samples and formula company support advice isn’t about choice, it’s about marketing. There is a distinct difference there.
If you want to breastfeed beware of the unsupportive support that aims to line someone else’s pockets. Formula isn’t evil and it can be a needed tool in feeding our babies but it can also sabotage any breastfeeding relationship. The companies that make it aren’t inherently evil either but they are watching out for their shareholders and bottom line profits before they are concerned about women experiencing breastfeeding success. The more women that breastfeed, the more it cuts into their profits. Their marketing tactics are getting more aggressive as breastfeeding gains more mainstream attention and accolades.
Still, some truly supportive support receives financial gain for those offering the support. Lactation consultants do and should get paid for the work they do. Even this site earns some income through the sponsorship of the companies whose ad buttons you can see on the side. So is earning a profit from supporting breastfeeding really only self-serving? I don’t think so and I don’t think I’m saying that to defend myself. I don’t think it’s self-serving and thus unsupportive support, for one important reason: there is nothing to gain from a woman not reaching her breastfeeding goal.
Did you receive samples of formula and did you use them? Do think formula samples can undermine a breastfeeding mother’s efforts?
Do you feel formula companies can be trusted to dispense advice and support on breastfeeding?