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It’s Time to Put Infant Health Over Corporate Wealth

It’s Time to Put Infant Health Over Corporate Wealth

Take action today to hold companies accountable for unethical marketing tactics aimed at parents.

If you are a parent, it’s a story that you are probably familiar with: emotionally appealing infant formula ads on the side of your Facebook news feed, formula samples mailed directly to your home, diaper bags full of promotional materials handed to you or a loved one right after giving birth in the hospital – by a doctor that you trust.

“I have always indicated that I planned to exclusively breastfeed my children yet I ALWAYS received free formula samples in the mail,” said Angela, a mom from North Carolina who asked that her last name not be used. “When my adult daughter gave birth to my grandson, now only was she bombarded with the samples in the mail, but she was sent home from the hospital with a bag of free samples.”

Angela’s story is not unique. For generations, infant formula companies like Nestle, Mead-Johnson and Abbott have aggressively advertised their products to parents, laying seeds of doubt for parents who intend to breastfeed. While 85 percent of mothers in the United States want to breastfeed for at least three months,1 only 44.4 percent do.2

Some marketing tactics have evolved over the years with the rise in popularity of social media and email, but many of the most aggressive tactics from the formula industry remain the same. Among them is encouraging doctors in hospitals and clinics to push free samples of their products on new parents.

Companies do this because they know that we trust our doctors. Although doctors and nurses may not realize it, providing infant formula samples to patients suggests that doctors endorse formula over breastfeeding, and one (usually the most expensive) brand in particular.3

Pressure from companies to choose formula over breastfeeding doesn’t end with sample bags. Messages from formula companies are carefully crafted and delivered through direct-to-consumer advertising in the form of coupons mailed to parents’ homes, targeted Facebook ads and paid endorsements on mommy blogs.4

Pressure from formula companies is pervasive, but you can help limit it.

In 1981, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. In short, the Code says that infant formula should be marketed ethically and never directly to the public through samples or other forms of advertisements. While 37 countries have adopted the WHO Code into law, the United States has not.5

But parents can pressure formula companies to change their marketing practices in accordance with the WHO Code.

Today is the WHO code Day of Action, and here in the U.S., parents, doctors and activists are taking action to send a clear and unified message to infant formula companies to change their marketing practices.

Join the day of action and put pressure on Nestle, Mead-Johnson and Abbott by tweeting at them and/or posting on their Facebook pages to demand that they follow the WHO Code immediately.

Your voice matters. For more information and instructions, join us on facebook.


1. Rochman, Bonnie. (2012, June 04). Why Most Moms Don’t Reach Their Own Breast-Feeding Goals. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/04/why-most-moms-cant-reach-their-own-breast-feeding-goals.

2. National Center for Chronic Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Breastfeeding Report Card. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2016breastfeedingreportcard.pdf.

3. Rosenberg, K. D., Eastham, C. A., Kasehagen, L. J., & Sandoval, A. P. (2008). Marketing Infant Formula Through Hospitals: the Impact of Commercial Hospital Discharge Packs on Breastfeeding. Am J Public Health, 98(2), 290-295.; Snell, B., Krantz, M., Keeton, R., Delgado, K., & Peckham, C. (1992). The association of formula samples given at hospital discharge with the early duration of breastfeeding.Journal of Human Lactation, 8(2), 67.

4. Mejia, Pamela; Seklir, Lillian; Gardin, Karra; Nixon, Laura. (2016). Mother and child promotion:

A preliminary analysis of social media marketing of infant formula. Retrieved from http://www.bmsg.org/sites/default/files/bmsg_infant_formula_marketing_social_media_analysis.pdf.

5. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85621/1/9789241505987_eng.pdf