Friday, May 17, 2013

Breastfeeding Moms Have a Target on Their Breasts

The national increase in breastfeeding rates has caused the formula companies to stand up and take notice.  What is great news for moms, babies and society could prove disastrous for formula companies and their stock holders--unless they can grab part of the growing market.  

Formula companies, like most thriving companies, strive to make a profit and constantly plot how to increase their earning. Some companies do this in conscionable ways while others are not so scrupulous--allowing visions of profit to cloud their judgement, they tend to concentrate on profit regardless of quality or health implications. Any assumption that these companies have the best interest of baby in mind is ludicrous. They continue to use the cheapest ingredients (corn syrup, vegetable oil, sucrose, etc) to allow for greater income--the bottom line, their loyalty is to their stock holders and wallets, which leads to many of their marketing strategies. 

The earlier a company can obtain a loyal customer the better.  Many ads and products vie for the prenatal shopper. Brand loyalty can begin with a selection of prenatal vitamins or supplements.  Many pregnant women are succumbing to the offers of registering for baby formula for baby showers and collecting coupons before they even deliver a baby.    

Formula companies previously used more passive marketing techniques such as offering free feeding advice on warm lines, suggesting formula for moms on the go, or offering quality gifts to new moms; but the days of subtleties are over.  The breastfeeding market has become too large to ignore, so "if you can't beat them, market to them." 
Formula advertisers are the kings of spin.  Moms have switched to formula after the huge marketing campaign announcing that breastfed babies need a Vitamin D supplement since breast milk does not contain the sunshine vitamin.  Of course, none of the ads reveal that breast milk was not meant to contain Vitamin D, which ideally comes from the sun. Since formula contains it, mothers began to question whether or not their milk was complete--the marketing strategy paid off, consumers were either purchasing formula containing Vitamin D or the Vitamin D supplements (manufactures by Enfamil) that state clearly on the box, "Essential for all Breastfed Infants." Of course the box top boasts, the "brand recommended by Pediatricians."

Perhaps the most disturbing trend in formula marketing occurred this month with the release of a new product directly targeting and undermining breastfeeding moms.  The May 11, 2013, release of a Similac for Supplementation confirms the company is desperately trying to increase its customer base.  This blatant attempt to sabotage the breastfeeding relationship is outrageous.  This new product states, "for breastfeeding moms who choose to introduce formula" compared to the other formulas which are only for "formula moms who choose to introduce formula?" This is a pathetic bid for the breastfeeding audience.  Unfortunately, it could just work, especially since this message is being perpetuated by a new study released two days later in Pediatrics.  The article's release date (occurring the same week this formula hit the shelves) is highly suspect.  It may seem like a conspiracy theory, but as well-equipped as the strategists are, the timing is not a coincidence and neither is the correlation between Abbott and the co-author of the study, who was previously employed by the maker of Similac.

The timing could not have been better orchestrated. It would be interesting to see if an advertisement for Similac ran in some of the major papers who posted the flawed supplementation study.

Formula companies seem to have an uncanny way of acquiring prestigious spokespeople for free. First, the doctors in the hospitals, now researchers for Pediatrics. No wonder the companies boast billions in profit annually, they have inside help.

The flawed, and poorly-constructed study published by Pediatrics sent the media on a sharing frenzy. The article made its way into nearly every large newspaper with headlines proclaiming that formula helps to breastfeed (an oxymoron exemplified).  Similac, Enfamil, and other artificial human milk companies could not have been handed a better gift. Few editors critiqued or even read the study prior to plastering the headlines across front pages.  The study, released online May 13, 2013, and published in Pediatrics, consisted of forty subjects-- an anemic sample size. The conclusion, after confirming that  15 of 19 mothers were still breastfeeding at 3 months, compared to 8 of 19 in the control group--a difference of 7 babies--was that babies given formula continue to breastfeed at higher rates. Not only was the study not supported by a clear hypothesis, the subjects were not homogeneous.

The clear conflict of interest was also document by a disclosure statement by the co-author, who "served as a paid consultant for Abbot Nutrition, Mead-Johnson, Nestle SA and Pifzer Consumer Products." Obviously, he must have a bias towards the necessity of formula to serve as a consultant for these companies. In fact, a more responsible study could have centered around supplementation with donor milk, if marketing formula was not one of the goals of this study. Pediatrics and its peer review council will surely continue to come under fire for publishing such an insult to true research. They acted in an irresponsible and unethical manner by endorsing this premature study. Although much of the damage has irreversibly been done, there are several rebuttals and informative articles being shared that are well thought out and deserve recognition   It is unfortunate indeed that newspaper editors will not be publishing any of them.  Dr. Alison Stuebe a member of Breasfeeding Medicine provides a response to the published study. Dr. Jack Newman added valuable insight to the study by posting his own commentary. 

As a service to breastfeeding mothers, and a way to expose the flawed research Birthing, Bonding and Breastfeeding conducted a survey asking mothers to respond if they were able to exclusively breastfed without formula supplementation. Within 24 hours over 340 moms confirmed their breastfeeding relationship was protected by choosing not to supplement.  Maybe from this result we could conclude that 99% women who use Facebook exclusively breastfeed. As ridiculous as this statistic is, it shows the parallel to how numbers can be manipulated and the erroneous conclusions which were drawn from the Pediatrics study.

Formula companies are missing out on a large portion of the infant-feeding market. Breastfeeding moms stay vigilant.  If you desire to breastfeed exclusively, the evidence is overwhelming in support of avoiding supplementation.  Babies are born to breastfeed and the protecting the relationship by keeping Mom and Baby together is the best practice for success.  Women who need additional support or medical advice should consult with their breastfeeding-friendly physician, Lactation Consultant and Peer Support Groups.

Editor's Note: I hope we can promote the message that moms do indeed have the milk they need when their babies are born. Products and flawed studies continue to undermine instinct and nature. We need to dispose of the idea that milk will "come in" or that mother's around day 3...engorgement does not have to happen, and if any more milk were available on day one, theoretically the baby could overfeed since all he wants to do is suck! We don't need to "wait" for anything. Just keep the dyad together and all the "issues" can resolve themselves.


  1. Excellent essay on this whole inter-related mess. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, just had to point out the timing and all the "coincidences"

  2. Awesome blog. I wish I'd written it myself.

  3. I don't think those 'coincidences' could be coincidental! Why aren't journalists a bit more intelligent?! (no insult intended to those wonderful journalists who do their research well.)

  4. Terrific article, a great reminder about how marketing is is messed up!

  5. Thank you for sharing this. When I was in the NICU with my premie, each morning there was a conversation about supplementing my breastmilk for him, with concentrated formula. I said no thank you. I stayed in the NICU and fed my child and only left when he came home. If I had left the decision to the staff and it was the youngest, the medical residents, not the older experienced neonatologists, who pushed for the concentrated formula for "vitamins and minerals" they would have supplemented. I was fortunate to do research there in the hospital online and find that there were no growth charts for exclusively breastmilk fed premies and there was literature showing that mothers milk responds to babies needs. The staff, particularly the nurses were open to learning more. I was fortunate. Thank you for shining the light into these greedy practices that do not serve babies.

  6. Thank you all for the encouragement and motivation...we will use education to shine light in the darkness!

  7. Sorry, but what you say about "stretching their stomachs", and "would be catastrophic" is simply not true. A baby only eats as much as it wants. It will never over eat, even if there is more milk in the bottle. I've bottle fed five babies from birth, believe me. They never take more than a half to a whole ounce for the first couple of days.

  8. Having Baby "finish the bottle" leads to adult obesity

    Much research has been done to confirm that babies will overeat and we must be aware of how that will impact their future

  9. Thanks for the discussion. Can you update the link to Dr. Newman's response? The current link took me to his Facebook page, not to a specific post. Thanks!