Saturday, July 31, 2010

World Breastfeeding Week: Formula for Sale

Once there was a peddler who sold infant formula. But he was not like an ordinary peddler carrying his wares to moms and dads, he carried them right into the pediatricians office...and into the hospital...and into the NICU...and to sponsored pregnancy events...and into medical conferences.

Last year, I was sitting in the waiting room of a pediatrician's office when a formula salesman walked in.  I should preface this by saying that I loathe formula salespeople much more than I actually loathe formula itself.  I view these salesmen as a detriment to public health.  There is definitely a place in the world for a substitute to breast milk for women who can't and/or don't want to breastfeed.  However, 60% of breastfeeding babies are also receiving formula by the time they are 2 months old, far short from the 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I work in an OB department in a hospital.  I know that formula salesmen have attempted to talk directly to nurses, to cajole them with pens, measuring tapes, and ID tags.  Lucky for our patients, our hospital is trying to comply with the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and prohibits formula salesmen from talking directly to staff.  Instead they must go through the Department of Purchasing just like every other salesman.  But apparently our family pediatrician does not feel that way.  The salesman was sweet talking those nurses so much that they all gathered around him blushing to find out the latest offerings of continuing education credits on the formula website. 

So, at the end of the visit, I confronted the doctor.

Me: "Why do you allow formula salesmen in a private practice that does not take any insurance.  That is not what I would expect." 

Him: "You're right, I guess that doesn't look so good"

Me: "Surely the women who come here know they can buy formula if it is truly necessary.  Why do you need to advertise it and give it away for free?"

Him: "Hmmm...he is not supposed to be bringing that inside, I will talk to him."

Me: I went on about how formula advertising undermines moms efforts, gives the wrong impression at a doctor's office, brand recognition, yada yada yada.  There was even a pregnant mom waiting in the waiting room to conduct a pre-delivery interview with the doctor! 

Him: "Moms feel guilty when breastfeeding does not work out."

Very true.  But an office that welcomes formula salesmen into their office and allows them to talk to their nurses, would likely give a breastfeeding woman a ready-to-feed bottle than call a Lactation Consultant if she was having trouble breastfeeding.  And that is where the guilt would come in. 

This incident got me thinking about why breastfeeding seems to be so difficult and cause so much guilt.  How can something so natural be so hard to figure out? How can animals figure out how to breastfeed without the help of lactation consultants?  And what can we do about all of this guilt?!

I got my answer when I learned about Biological Nurturing: the Laid Back Breastfeeding Position.  The laid back breastfeeding position elicits innate feeding behaviors in the mom and baby and it works!  I have seen it work on countless women and I have only been teaching about this position for about one year.  Read more about this position in my first post about it here.  Instead of supporting the baby with your arms, and therefore requiring modern-day breastfeeding pillows, you simply lean back slightly and support the baby with your body.  The baby can be in many different positions as long she is lying down on you.  Most women enjoy placing their babies in a parallel position to their own body but do whatever works for you!

I am not willing to say that we have been teaching breastfeeding all wrong, but I do think we have been missing a big piece to the puzzle.  If more women started using this position immediately after the baby is born and for at least the first 3 months, more babies would breastfeed, we would have fewer breastfeeding difficulties, and moms would have a lot more confidence about breastfeeding!

And slowly, slowly, the formula salespeople would take their formula back to town, calling "Formula, formula for sale, why doesn't anyone need my formula anymore?"


  1. Great post. I love your insights and I hope you are right that one day the last quote will be true!

  2. Hey Sheridan! Thanks! I love your insights as well. One day I'll share my birth story with you to add to your positive birth story collection- I loved both of my births! Just need time to get it down on paper...