Originally published February 13th, 2013
Yesterday I went for my annual eye exam. It seemed as routine as it sounds as I waited for my turn. As I sat in the chair it was hard to believe another year had passed. My eye doctor said to me “what do you do?” He had vaguely remembered that I work in maternal child health globally. He shared with me that he was a Nestlé stockholder and recently was reading an article about Nestlé selling infant formula and breast-feeding advocates concerns. He clearly thought that with free market there’s no reason why Nestlé should not be allowed to sell their formula and that women have the education and decision-making ability to decide if they want to breast-feed or if they want to purchase formula. I’m sure his response is very standard and seems reasonable to many.
I asked if he knew that thousands of babies die each year mostly in the developing countries when they use formula, that would not die if they were breastfed? Yes we agreed this is due to lack of access to clean water, lack of mixing properly, families diluting the formula to save money as well as the many short and long term health benefits that breastfeeding provides. He quickly said then why isn’t the focus on clean water? Why are governments held accountable to have clean water for everyone? While I agree on this I said to him what about governments responsibility to provide the best information and work toward optimal health for MotherBaby. There is no company to gain from marketing breast-feeding. It is a public health issue! Every person, company and country should take a stand for the health of our youngest citizens. Finally the United States is getting involved.
I offered the idea about how years ago cigarettes and alcohol were advertised on television. With good lobbying government finally banned Tobaco and alcohol companies from advertising realizing they must protect the information that goes to consumers that can influence their behaviors and have negative health consequences. I asked “can you see this same similarity here with formula?”.
He nodded gently. I launched into the The Code (World Health Organization Publication WHO/MCH/NUT/90.1) says:
• NO advertising of breast-milk substitutes to the public.
• NO free samples to mothers.
• NO promotion of products in health-care facilities
• NO company “mothercraft” nurses to advise mothers.
• NO gifts or personal samples to health workers.
• NO words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including
pictures of infants on the products.
• Information to health workers should be scientific and factual.
• All information on artificial feeding, including the labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding, and the costs and
hazards associated with artificial feeding.
• Unsuitable products, such as condensed milk, should not be promoted for babies.
• All products should be of a high quality and take into account the climatic and storage conditions of the country where they are used.
To read more visit World Health Organization Publication WHO/MCH/NUT/90.1, visit Breastfeeding Online, and for many insights and resources about the code visit The International Baby Food Action Network.
While Nestle has limited in marketing in some low resource countries, why does it still violate the code in many middle to high resource countries? Don’t our babies deserve the best start? While I agree with his next statement that the U.S government and other government should regulate this as they do tobacco ads, I also feel that companies also have an ethical responsibility to uphold best practices. Nestle clearly has: been asked, seen boycotts of their products, and knows the ills that come from pushing formula. For details on this visit the Baby Milk Action site.
After a long discussion, my eye-doctor said, “you gave me a great deal to consider and look at from a new vantage point.” He finished my exam- my eyes are good and I left with a smile. You never know when you can educate and open a discussion to shift perception.
What are your thoughts on the WHO Code? What are your thoughts on Nestle?
Where have you opened up discussions about maternity care or breastfeeding?