Can Formula Marketing Affect a Mom's Decision to Breastfeed?

The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding also called for implementation of the World Health Organization's International Code [of Ethics] for Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, but we haven't adopted it ... yet. However, there's a promising first step -- the FDA is conducting a large-scale study to see exactly how formula marketing not only affects a mom's opinion of individual formulas, but also how it affects her opinion of breastfeeding.

So, why is this a good thing?

It's no surprise that formula companies put lots of money into advertising, and sometimes they skirt the line between truth and fiction with some of their claims. They are big business, after all. They're not in it to make your baby super healthy ... well, their scientists are, of course, but their marketing firm? Not so much.


Their job is to convince you that their product is the best, the most likely to get your baby super healthy, big, and strong. Sadly, their competition isn't just other formula companies, but breastfeeding -- which has no annual income, only financial backing from government programs that often are shut down by formula companies.

So this FDA study, cross your fingers, is likely to show what we've known for years and many countries have proven before implementing the Code themselves, which is formula marketing does have an impact on moms, in regards to their trust in different brands, and how they see the product compared to breast milk.

I know no one likes to think they're influenced by marketing, that they always are free and educated thinkers, but the truth is, people are constantly swayed by marketing -- would people make enormous six-figure paychecks or more as an ad designer if marketing weren't incredibly important? So for a can of formula to say something like, "Contains DHA and ARA, fatty acids found in breast milk that are necessary for brain development" sounds great unless you are aware that DHA and ARA come from laboratory-created, genetically-modified algae and fungus, and then refined with hexane, a neurotoxin that comes from refined crude oil, and is also known to cause dangerous diarrhea in newborns. Not quite as pretty when you look at it that way, right? And especially when you know that they've never had to prove to the FDA that those added ingredients ACTUALLY accomplish anything before they add them, and even have said themselves it might have no effect, but people pay a lot more for them? Yikes.

The study will focus on over 10,000 women and their reactions to two "formulas." One with labels that make health claims, and one without, for example, to see how the mere sentences on a can will affect their opinions. They also will look at the woman's past baby-feeding history, if it's not her first child, and her opinions on formula and breastfeeding as a whole.

This research could prove incredibly beneficial to moms in this country, so we can start getting a lot of honesty from doctors, hospitals, and also the companies themselves. Moms don't need to be fed pretty lines, what we need is people who are going to tell us truth, and also to have the truth made available to us. Once that's all available, then moms can truly make an informed decision.

Do you think the FDA study will help show that formula advertising is misleading?


Image via brokinhrt2/Flickr

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