by Tytina Sanders-Bey
For 33 years, formula corporations have violated the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 21, 1981. To mark the WHO Code Anniversary this year, HealthConnect One joined Public Citizen in a Campaign to Stop Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities, and we invited our community partners and allies to speak about their experience here on the blog.
This is the fourth and final guest post in this series.
I am a Certified Lactation Counselor. I have the role of the breastfeeding support person for many families. I am their go-to person for the ins and outs of breastfeeding their new baby. I’m currently employed as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.
I got into doing this type of work very early in my life. While some of my friends went away to college, I was becoming a teen mom. I wanted to learn more about being a good mom, and providing the very best for my baby. I learned that breastfeeding was an easy way to give my baby an optimum start in life. By learning to mother, and experiencing the awesome bond while nurturing my baby, I developed an urge to help other moms like me.
I took the HealthConnect One Teen Breastfeeding Peer Leader training. This enabled me to help other teen moms learn about breastfeeding. I got a part-time job at a local clinic, promoting breastfeeding. As time went on, I went to La Leche League International and became a breastfeeding peer counselor. At this point, I began teaching breastfeeding classes. I would speak to groups of expectant moms and their families. I also did one on one counseling, telephone follow-ups and home visits. I did hospital rounds to help moms get those first feedings off to a good start. Next, I became a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program Administrator. I was then able to train others to become breastfeeding peer counselors. I learned more, and did more, ultimately becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC).
My favorite part of the job is going to the hospital helping the new moms. I could never get tired of helping a newborn get the nourishment and goodness of its mother’s milk.
When I speak to a new mom, I introduce myself with some sort of catch phrase like, “Hi, I’m the breastfeeding fairy,” and say my actual name. That way I break the ice and get mom’s attention. I make her comfortable talking to me if she has never seen me before. If she has visitors, they are more receptive to me, as well. I let them know that I am there to help make breastfeeding magical. Once my purpose is known, then I find out what exactly needs to be done to help mom and baby. Now being that I have been in her position many times before, I can empathize and relate. One of my favorite persuasion techniques is to use my own situation that is closest to what mom is experiencing. I will suggest to her, “If I can do it, you can do it,” and proceed to assist her.
Artificial baby milk has a major impact in the communities I have served. Moms and families look at this canned substance as the thing they need, in order to feed their new babies. Because it is so widely used, it has become the “Norm” for infant feeding in economically challenged communities. Now because I am from an economically challenged community and I did not rely on artificial baby milk, I take pride in informing families that formula is “just a formula.” Breast milk provides superior nutrition for our babies and it comes with an unmatchable health plan. Moms look at the ads, and read the artificial baby milk packages prenatally trying to decide, Which one of these should I feed my baby? Moms will look for ways to get “free” or discounted milk once the baby is born, while overlooking the fact that they already have milk to feed the babies in their breasts. Because artificial baby milk is so widely used and promoted, many moms never even consider breastfeeding, unless they come across a breastfeeding support person.
In my experience, the marketing of breast milk substitutes has had the impact of becoming a quick fix for hospital staff. If mom says she doesn’t wish to breastfeed her baby, more than likely she has not been informed of the risk of formula feeding. Instead of taking the time to educate the mother, the ready-to-feed bottles of artificial baby milk are given. If baby has an adverse reaction to consuming this substance, another “formula” is given. Another quick fix example would be: If mom does state she is going to breastfeed, but baby is not ready to nurse according to the hospital’s feeding schedule, here come the force fed cc’s of artificial baby milk. This is often done so that charting can be completed and passed on when the staffing shifts change.
Bottles at the hospital can destroy the chances for breastfeeding success. If mom has no idea how breastfeeding works and what it does, then she has no inspiration to even give it a try. If she does try to breastfeed and the timing isn’t right, or latch issues arise, mom may ask for a bottle. The baby swallows the artificial baby milk that is poured down her throat from the bottle and mom loses confidence in breastfeeding before she really even gets it. Breast milk comes in different stages, beginning with colostrum. Colostrum is ideal for newborn digestion, and helps prepare baby for life outside of the womb. Artificial baby milk tries to use formula stages such as “newborn stage” which is now available in ready-to-feed bottles at the hospital. However, “newborn stage formula” is far from colostrum. It has no way of helping baby fight off germs transmitted by something as simple as a sneeze from a hospital staff member.
I have witnessed the marketing of artificial baby milk to moms prenatally just by her doing something as simple as reading a pregnancy/parenting magazine. Lots of moms receive formula coupons and bottle samples simply because they are pregnant. Chances are, if a mom is uninformed about breastfeeding, it’s because the friends and family members surrounding her have all fed their infants artificial baby milk. They were also unaware of breastfeeding support. If issues occurred when they themselves breastfed, they immediately turned to artificial baby milk. These people will suggest a formula for her because they fed it to their infants. These friends and family members won’t receive a penny from the formula feeding companies, but they will market it. Unfortunately, this goes on for generations and continues to keep families from breastfeeding.
I have also seen the marketing of artificial baby milk on mommy blogs and websites. Ads will pop up on the sides of what mom is reading. They will even request her info and email address to send her “free offers.” Nowadays, the formula companies are well aware they need to try to copy Mother Nature so they will advertise things like “Now with DHA and ARA just like breast milk.” The newest formula I have seen says it’s for “supplementation,” implying that you need to supplement using this formula while breastfeeding. It specifically targets breastfeeding moms and families. Ads that encourage mom to think specific formulas are very close to breast milk will persuade her to want to try it.
Then the free formula gift pack given from labor and delivery implies, “Take this. You will need it.” It often comes with formula coupons and a cute decorative diaper bag. Mom needs the diaper bag, so she will take it without a doubt. If mom is not confident that she can feed her baby using her breast milk only, she already has the formula in her free diaper bag from the hospital. Mom has no idea that feeding her baby the formula can reduce her milk supply. It does not come with a handout or any info that says, “If you use this formula, express your milk to help protect your milk supply.” Her milk supply has diminished, the baby is more accepting of the artificial nipple, and the whole breastfeeding thing goes out of the window.
One thing I often say to new parents is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The answer is often a telephone call away. There are people who are more than willing to help you.” I also tell them to take advantage of the free wonderful breast milk they have. I tell them if they don’t use it, they lose it. I remind them that breastfeeding is very important for mom and baby’s health and well being.
My advice for someone who wants to support new babies is: Commit, and make yourself available. Be prepared to communicate with the entire family, or anyone else who comes in contact with mom and baby on a regular basis. The day care center mom is using, and mom’s job, may need info on breastfeeding rights. Have resources available so that you can educate whenever and wherever it’s needed. Be kind and understanding. Be the type of support person that you would want to have.
We need to remind moms and families that a woman has breasts for a purpose. That purpose is to feed her offspring. Breast milk comes free with the birth of her new baby. All she has to do is be willing to let the baby drink it. One of my other icebreakers is, “Don’t be stingy with the breast milk.”
I know that I have made a difference for many moms and babies, and I will continue because this is my passion. Some even say it’s my calling.
Tytina Sanders-Bey, sometimes known as the Breastfeeding Fairy, is a Certified Lactation Counselor who works as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor in the Chicagoland area. A passionate provider of and advocate for breastfeeding support, Tytina is mother to five children.
HealthConnect One is committed to sharing a variety of perspectives on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. Each guest post reflects the writer’s experience, and is not necessarily the view of HealthConnect One.
We invite you to share your thoughts on the marketing of artificial baby milk below.