It may seem benign or innocent when you start to get formula coupons and samples in your mailbox during your pregnancy. Some companies send you information tailored to your specific stage of pregnancy and “helpful” magazines or pamphlets with information that you find interesting. You may just stash your formula samples away and not really think about them again. Until you have your baby.
Exclusive breastfeeding goals
Many moms have a goal of exclusive breastfeeding. I always did. In fact, I am still nursing a 3-year-old child, although not exclusively. And even the ardent breast feeder than I am, and always have been, I can admit that I never threw away the formula samples that were heaped upon me when I left the hospital after her birth, and I can admit that they did call my name from the bottom of her closet on nights where I was desperate for a break. I never gave in, but I did feel the pull.
In my case, however, I knew that I could push through the low moments when I was tired or sore because I'd done it three times before. I knew that breastfeeding was absolutely worth it and would only get easier with practice and time. With my first baby, I had no breastfeeding experience, but I had an innate trust of my body to do what it was supposed to do. I knew no one who had breastfed, so while I didn't hear success stories, I also wasn't discouraged by stories that didn't end so well.
The lure of formula
Formula can seem like a temporary solution, but for some, it can be a slippery slope that leads to breastfeeding abandonment. One mom we spoke to shared a story about her good friend who this happened to. “I had a friend who left the hospital with a whole slew of formula samples and would use them when she was tired, and in the middle of the night, and so on,” she shared. “Before she knew it, her supply tanked and she couldn't get it back up. She was nursing her 1-month-old maybe three times a day.”
Formula companies routinely stretch the limits of the rules set down starting in 1981 by the World Health Organization called the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (click here for a PDF of the code). The WHO has recognized that declining breastfeeding rates have a detrimental effect on the health of society as a whole and drew up the code to help deter formula companies from preying on some of the most vulnerable members of society — new moms.
In the U.S., most of us are lucky to have access to clean water and relative wealth. Even moms with little means can get enough formula for their children through public assistance or food stamps. But worldwide, feeding a baby formula can mean disease and possibly death. And formula marketing to mothers in these dire situations borders on criminal, as often the formula is improperly prepared or prepared with contaminated water.
Steps to success
For moms to have as much success as possible, they should be surrounded by support — not only in the family, but in her doctor's office and the community as well. Breastfeeding in public should be looked at as no big deal, lactation consultants should be made available and encouragement given when a mom is wavering.
I'm lucky. Breastfeeding has always, for the most part, come easy and naturally for me. But it doesn't for every mother, and if formula companies push a little less, and more support is given, maybe more moms will be able to breastfeed for longer.