Hunting for Accurate Information

How often have you seen misleading advertisements about breastfeeding? It can be subtle. It is pervasive, especially on social media. And this makes it more challenging to support Human Milk for all families. 

This manipulative marketing is designed to “control or play upon by artful, unfair or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage.”*  Tired and anxious parents are the obvious and especially vulnerable targets.

The W.H.O Code (a.k.a the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes) was created to protect parents and families from manipulative marketing. It defines guidelines for manufacturers and health care providers on how to limit the deceptive promotions that prey on parents. It does not prohibit the sale or use of formula. 

Enforcement’ is voluntary. That is, countries that sign on to the W.H.O Code agree to it’s principles and act to put it into legislation. The United States recently took ‘No Action”, meaning this country is not working to put this into legislation. Then- President Donald Trump sent a tweet stating: “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula.” (1:04 PM – Jul 9, 2018)* This is an example of misinformation. Women would not be denied formula. Again, the W.H.O Code does not prohibit the sale or use of formula. The W.H.O Code focuses on manipulative marketing tactics.

You can help make The W.H.O Code more effective! You can participate in an extensive research study. This project is called Surveying the Landscape of Breastmilk Substitute (BMS) Marketing Practices in Four Countries.  The purpose is to discern the scale of undermining messages and misinformation.  Learn more about this research study and sign up to participate.

Described as a ‘scavenger hunt’, this original approach can engage more people and raise awareness. Grandparents, parents and other consumers find and document examples of manipulative marketing. That includes images, published materials, ‘Influencers’ endorsements and others items that promote formula over human milk. By collecting this data, the study’s authors can determine the W.H.O Code’s effectiveness and generate improvements. The goal, ultimately, is to improve breastfeeding rates.

Examples of manipulative marketing of formula include: 

  • Using scientific words like ‘brain health’, ‘neurodevelopment’, ‘gut microbiome’ to imply health benefits from a specific formula though there are no valid studies to prove this. 
  • Insinuations that formula will solve common ‘problems’: crying jags, frequent feeding and more. Claims that with formula a baby will sleep better are baseless. Yet these all are aimed directly at a parent’s fatigue and anxiety. 
  • Free samples, even given to grandparents and health care providers, subtly undermine positive support. For this reason, Massachusetts banned the use of formula gift bags in hospitals and several more states have followed suit.

  • Text and images that idealize formula feeding, or including pictures of infants on formula containers are prohibited by the W.H.O. Code.

  • Sponsoring academic and professional education, having displays and samples in a clinic, associates the formula company with credible research and health care centers. It also creates an obligation from the professionals to the formula company. 

When you start recognizing the subterfuges, you can help families see it, too. Learn more about this research study and sign up to participate.

Of all the things that are confused and messed-up in our world, breastfeeding and the use of Human Breast Milk is a profoundly good thing. This ‘scavenger hunt’ research study is another way to make providing Human Milk more possible for all families.


Resources for more information.
•The Yale University School of Public Health recently had a very good review about marketing of infant formula.

•La Leche League International has a very good summary of The WHO Code.