Babble, Similac, WebMD, and Nestle Work Together to Sabotage Breastfeeding Moms

by Dagmar Bleasdale on September 9, 2010

I don’t blog about breastfeeding as much as I used to, but I don’t want you to think that I’m not still doing it — I am still nursing Landon.  He is slowly weaning himself and doing it less and less, as you would expect from an almost 4-year-old boy.

I guess I’m truly an “extended” breastfeeder, since a lot of people refer to extended breastfeeding if it goes past the first year or so. That’s actually not “extended” at all, one year should ideally be the minimum for any child according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization now recommends breastfeeding a child for two years for maximum benefits.

While on Twitter a few nights ago, I caught wind of a new problem brewing with formula companies advertising their ware — I saw a tweet by Annie (@phdinparenting) about Babble being in cahoots with the formula company who makes Similac.

Apparently, when you are looking for help with breastfeeding on Babble, the page is sponsored by Similac and they offer “feeding experts” you can call. As Annie points out, “I doubt they are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), since their Code of Ethics would prevent them from working for an infant formula company.”

I didn’t even read Annie’s whole article — Similac and Babble team up to dupe breastfeeding moms — right away but saw Annie’s next tweet that Babble’s CEO Rufus Griscom didn’t intend to change a thing about the campaign, even after reading Annie’s educational post.

phdinparenting “Final word from Babble CEO: Thanks for your input, but we’re not changing a damn thing. #suckit http://bit.ly/dpYGMb

That alone got me so fired up that I started writing a passionate comment on her blog. It got so detailed that I figure I might as well make my own blog post out of it. Here is what I wrote, and more:

As a mom who struggled with breastfeeding in the beginning like most most moms and as a lactivist who knows first-hard about all the wonderful (health) benefits of breastfeeding for child AND mom, finding out that Babble offers a breastfeeding guide that is sponsored by Similac’s feeding hotline is beyond outrageous.

It gets worse — WebMD is offering a breastfeeding guide that is sponsored by Nestle’s Gerber Good Start. Annie, the The Feminist Breeder, the Crunchy Domestic Goddess, others and I participate on the No Nestle boycott. You can read more about that in this article: Breastfeeding, the Nestle Boycott, and BlogHer 2010.

Why are big corporations and formula companies able and allowed to keep sabotaging moms’ desire to breastfeed? We have the WHO Code yet no one is holding these companies accountable. Most moms DO want to breastfeed but are misinformed and so tired and sometimes in pain (from giving birth and before learning to breastfeed correctly) or lack support from family and friends that this kind of misleading advertising makes formula appealing even if the mom had the best intentions to only breastfeed.

So many kids in the U.S are obese, we are totally losing that battle, and it will cost us ALL billions to take care of the health ramifications that result from poor nutrition, WHY is it so hard to get more support for moms who want to feed their baby’s the most nutritious, healthy, and free food there is — breast milk? By the way, according to Breastfeeding Fights Obesity, 15 to 20 percent of obesity could have been prevented by breastfeeding.

WHY is it considered odd that I am still breastfeeding my almost 4-year-old son? Katherine Dettwyler, PhD, writes: “In societies where children are allowed to nurse “as long as they want” they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age” (A Natural Age of Weaning). Why is that not common knowledge? Doesn’t self-weaning sound like the healthiest thing to do for the child? Then WHY do I have to defend my choice to let my son decide when he’s ready to give up breastfeeding — even to educated family members?

He is the healthiest one in his preschool class, all of his little friends have had several rounds of pink eye, colds and worse in the last year and he hasn’t. Are we  just lucky? I think not. And renown Jack Newman, MD, agrees with my observation — his article about breastfeeding a toddler points out the many health benefits for the child: Breastfeed a Toddler—Why on Earth?

I wish people, especially men who like to sexualize breasts, would finally get it through their heads that supporting breastfeeding will save us all so much money that we don’t have to pump into health care! It wouldn’t even cost that much (print brochures, make phone help lines available, have lactation specialist visit the home after birth)– and we would raise healthier kids and gain healthier moms (supporting research: Study Finds More Health Benefits for Breastfeeding Moms).

People give formula companies a pass because there is no money to be made with what is freely available — breast milk. And that somehow makes it okay for formula companies to mislead mothers? Sure, in this country you are free to make as much money as possible with your product — but I as the consumer have the power to say that enough is enough! You are not willing to take on big formula companies because they are so powerful that it doesn’t make sense to speak up against them? What a screwed-up logic is that? Formula has only been around for about 140 years, and look what power we give it when we think that way. Heavily-funded bullshit doesn’t make it right, it just makes it expensive bullshit!

We the consumer DO have the power to refuse to buy their crap — their advertising crap and their formula crap they pawn off as being just like or even better (insert laugh here) than breast milk. Don’t buy their advertising nonsense that adding DHA or something “found also in breast milk” makes formula any healthier for babies. From Concerns About Infant Formula Marketing and Additives: “The most disturbing direct advertising for these more expensive “new” formulas subtly undermines the obvious and proven superiority of breastfeeding by positioning formula as more and more equivalent to breast milk.” Don’t fall for this kind of misleading marketing, people!

There IS money to be made with breastfeeding — or rather, there is money to be saved with breastfeeding. Millions of dollars in health care costs can be saved if more moms would breastfeed, as documented just recently:

“Nearly 900 babies would be saved each year and many child illnesses could be avoided if 90% of U.S. mothers breast-fed their babies for the first six months, a study says.” (New York Times: Increase in breast-feeding could save lives and billions of dollars)

Can we please all lobby Oprah to have a show on breastfeeding before the show goes off the air so it finally becomes more accepted, to inform all of the world about how amazingly valuable it is and that it usually takes a few days or even weeks to learn to breastfeed?

I don’t want to hear “My milk didn’t come in” or “I stopped breastfeeding because, you know, the milk doesn’t have any benefits any more after one year” ever again! I am so passionate about advocating breastfeeding, but I’m also really tired about running into the same negative comments and misinformation over and over again. Boobs ARE for breastfeeding, people, see? > Whip ‘Em Out! video with many celebrity moms endorsing breastfeeding.

Yet, I also have to say that regardless of what kind of misinformation is out there, there is plenty of reliable information and free resources available about breastfeeding, and I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for your own health and decisions. If you want to breastfeed, then try to learn as much as possible about it so you can make informed decisions and can’t be duped with misleading information from formula companies.

Breast milk is best — formula is not — it’s that simple. Want to succeed with breastfeeding? Then know to refuse or toss out the formula samples that companies — and unfortunately health care professionals — are shoving at you even though they are not allowed to. According to the Who International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, this and more is not allowed:

  • No advertising to the public of any product within the scope of the Code
  • No free samples to mothers.
  • No promotion of products through healthcare systems

If you have to use formula because of legitimate health reasons (baby allergic to milk, for example), then you don’t have a choice and I think in those cases formula companies should be made to give it to you at a huge discount (what are your thoughts on prescriptions for formula?)

If you are one of the few women who truly can’t produce milk or have body issues because of being sexually abused, then the best option is donor milk. I think donor milk should also be made available a lot cheaper (or by prescription) — especially since moms who donate the milk don’t get anything for their labor of love, actually need to go through some rigorous health screenings, and need to pump a lot of ounces to be allowed to donate their breast milk.

The price of formula has gone up like 100 percent or something like that in the last few years — that’s outrageous! If you want to use formula even after learning about what’s in it compared to your breast milk, or you feel you have to because your are going back to work, etc., go right ahead — that’s your decision, but then please own that decision. When I hear, “I’ve tried everything to breastfeed and it didn’t work” then feel satisfied that you tried everything — case closed. You don’t owe me any explanation why you started giving your child formula, and I’m not criticizing you for it. I just want you to know all the facts and your options.

I just recently wrote a lengthy article with many resources and links about breastfeeding versus formula that is a great starting point for moms who want to learn the facts about breastfeeding: Gisele Bundchen, We Don’t Need a Breastfeeding Law — Mothers Need Resources and Encouragement.

Moms, the key is educating yourself about breastfeeding BEFORE the baby arrives. Have the phone number of your local La Leche League leader ready on your fridge when you need free information and support at 3 a.m, read established blogs that write about breastfeeding (like PhD in Parenting and Kellymom), or talk to a lactation specialist beforehand. Nursing too painful? Maybe try pumping — I hear that more and more moms pump exclusively.

Babble’s CEO Rufus Griscom: if you are not willing to take the right steps that support instead of undermine moms who want to breastfeed, now that you are more informed, then you’ve shown your true colors and that’s all I need to know. Update: it seems the Similac helpline ads are gone — yay, one small victory!

WebMD: You weren’t a resource I used much before, but now I’ll be sure to never visit again. Your information can’t be trusted — if you are willing to take money from formula companies and to violate the WHO Code, who knows who else is writing your medical information?

I agree with Annie: breastfeeding support from a formula company is not okay. But then again, why would you contact a formula maker for breastfeeding help? Do you expect them to give you helpful and honest support in your desire to breastfeed your baby? Think, ladies, and be your child’s and your own best advocate!

As always, I encourage you to comment, weigh in, feel free to agree or disagree — let’s educate each others. Let’s get back to how things were in the past when seasoned moms help out new moms to succeed with breastfeeding. More educated knowledge and information about breastfeeding will make the demand for formula go down dramatically, and that would be a welcomed trend . Girl power!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie March 20, 2011 at 6:56 PM

As the mom of a FF 7 year old I support BF and adequate education and support to make it successful if thats what a woman wants to do. I didn’t have no desire to BF and made this clear to WIC and my OB. My OB supported my choice, WIC and the hospital LC did not. I’m a sexual assault survivor and was on antidepressants throughout my pregnancy and increased the dosage thrice when my son was born. Sadly among so many BF educators and advocates their is little compassion for SA survivors who cannot or dont want to BF. I concede for those who want to do it, with the right help and support it can be a healing experience. For others being pressured and told we dont love our children is a form of emotional blackmail. I tried in the hospital after the LC ripped my gown down and put my son on the breast. I told her not to touch my breast, but she insisted that she needed to insure that my son would properly latch on. I felt like I was being violated all over again. It hurt and my tears and protests were being ignored. My husband was standing there the whole time and all i could remember feeling is he will never look at me with respect again.
WIC tried to get my husband to “persuade” me to BF as they knew women who had been raped and were happily BF their babies. A clear example of 0 compassion for SA survivors. He politely told them to blank off and they quiet bothering me after that and after a stern phone call from my doctor informing them I was on antidepressants and that BF was not medically advisable. I was lucky in that regard other than the comments from other moms who seemed to know what was better for my son than me.
I believe in capitalism and the free market economy and believe that formula companies like any other have a right to adverstise their products. If a person is truly committed to BF then they should have the will power to say no. Of course hospitals have every right to set their own policies of allowing samples or not. I’m grateful for the 2 cans of formula that the hospital gave me for my son, as he was born on a Saturday and I came home on a Sunday night and we didn’t have any in the house. Its a simple matter of saying no and refusing the product. I find it hypocritical that some women want their choice to BF to be protected and to have access to the right education, yet are willing to try and take that choice away from other women who might want to FF. If you dont want the bloody samples then by all means say no and leave it at that. You can get all the help and tips on how to BF, while today it is rare for FF moms to get basic instructions on how to sterilize and prepare bottles. I didn’t get any education to that effect! Is that right? I think its an unfair double standard. Donor milk should be available for babies who have a dire need for it, like blood is available for those in a medical emergency. If a child is healthy and mom cant or doesn’t want to BF than formula is a viable and acceptable alternative. Its formula not rat poison and I get so tired of hearing it compared to such. Donor milk should be available via script for premies, those who have medical issues and cannot tolerate formula or other reasons a doctor may prescribe it for. Donor milk is also very expensive for the average household in this country and in these dire economic times. In some cases its 5 bucks an ounce! I dont understand why any woman would deprive baby who needs it just so her own child can have BM that she isn’t providing.Donor milk is a precious valuable resource for those in need. As far as prescriptions on formula goes? Give me a break! Once again we have some people who want to take the choice away from women on how to raise their kids and what to do or not do with their bodies. If you want to BF then do it, but dont tell another woman that she has to. A womans breast are part of her body and a woman has the right to bodily autonomy and just because she has a child doesn’t mean that she gives up that right and that her breasts are now public domain. If she chooses to use them to BF that is her choice, if not its none of nobody’s business. This falls well within the realm of a womans reproductive rights just as the right to terminate or carry a pregnancy is her right. Im sure many women reading this support that, then they should also support this aspect of it as well. Making formula available via script will not make more women BF, they will simply make their own formula. I was raised on evaporated and a Karo syrup blend and I turned out fine.. not that I would recommend it now. But that is what alot of people will do if formula wasn’t available OTC. It will put the health of babies at risk and this is why its important that WIC provide formula for low income women.. it should be about the children getting adequate nutrition, not to advance the cause of a political agenda as this debate as become. BF should be promoted as the ideal and I do think that WIC could do more than just provide minimal extra food to ensure that the BF relationship is successful. It should provide free pumps and access to an LC if problems arise. In some areas this is the case but not in all places. And the formula that is provided does not feed the baby for the entire month. I bought more cans of formula than was I got for nothing and you bet if the doctor offered me samples I took them as it is expensive, just like all aspects of raising kids today. They cost alot of money and you save where you can.
To say that BF is free and no money to be made I find laughable. If one factors in the cost of a pump, storage materials and if problems arise the cost of an LC which can range up to 100 bucks per hour, nursing clothing and other accessories . BF can be just as expensive or more than buying formula and bottles. Its not just the financial cost to factor in.. their is an emotional and physical toil on the mom who BFs. Both FF and BF have their good and bad aspects. Its just finding what works for an individual situation and doing whats best.
I know that most of the audiences who read this blog are passionate BF AP parents. Some might have older children, but I vouch many do not. I think it is sad that society puts the value on whether or not a woman is a good mom or not by how she uses or doesn’t use her breast. Your children will get older and will stop BF eventually, I have to ask what are you going to do after that? Since BF has become a big part of your identity as women and moms. The reality is the infant toddler stage is a small part of parenthood and just because you BF doesn’t mean that your children wont ever become ill. have allergies or not have a learning disability. I think many moms are under the illusion that if they BF their child and do it for as long as possible their child will not face any of the ills that often come along with childhood. My son has hardly been to the doctor for sick visits while my cousins middle child who was BF is allergic to about everything under the son.. the poor child. It depends on many things other than how a child was fed. BF does not make a woman superior nor do they deserve a badge of hon our for BF. FF doesn’t make a woman inferior and does not make her bad parent. What would make any person a bad parent is not feeding their child at all and not caring and educating them properly throughout their childhood.

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Susan October 24, 2010 at 10:25 PM

Every woman should make up her own mind about breastfeeding. Just as I would not speak poorly of a woman who is breastfeeding a 4 year old, I would not print anything demonizing formula companies, formula feeding moms, etc. Just because you believe something to be true doesn’t make it so.

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Paige September 24, 2010 at 3:10 AM

I loved the blog! I’m a new mom breastfeeding a daughter of 11 months and still going strong. She’s so stubborn after we came home from the hospital (they made us supplement because of some slight jaundice) she had one bottle and then refused it. Even she knows what’s best for her!

I thought you’d like to read this article as well: http://lat.ms/dBgIRW

At least there are some people out there trying to make a difference in educating new moms and not shoving formula down our throat.

Thanks for posting!

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AmyO September 23, 2010 at 10:25 PM

I love this post! As a breastfeeding mom of an almost 2 year old, I get a lot of flack. Especially from family and that bothers me. Breastfeeding moms need more support and to have more women like you advocating. Thank you for your stand!

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lisa September 21, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Well done! Dagmar, what an exceptional piece of writing. You are the most amazing, nursing blogger on the planet.

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DadStreet September 15, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Great post about Breastfeeding! I myself am fully supportive of breastfeeding. In fact, I’d do it if it weren’t for the hair and oh yeah, lack of milk! Truth be told my wife breastfed my daughter until she became pregnant with our son (her milk dried up during pregnancy). Now she’s breastfeeding our 12 month old and has been since his birth.

It infuriates me when I hear about people trying to sexualize breastfeeding. These people are spew their ignorance. Do they think Formula has been around for thousands of years? How do they think babies eat in countries that can’t afford Formula?

The sad truth is many woman don’t even try to breastfeed. Our society tells us that the most “convenient” thing to do is the best thing to do. Breastfeeding takes hard work. My wife has used a Lactation Consultant in the past and she pumps while at work everyday.

We bring these beautiful creatures onto the earth and women naturally produce the most amazing food they can consume. Why we don’t advocate providing our children with the Best is beyond me.

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Lara/MamaPear Designs September 10, 2010 at 3:53 AM

Dagmar,

Another wonderful passionate post. I love that you are still nursing your son and you have been able to continue to do what is best for him despite criticism from society.

Furthermore, I am thrilled that you are encouraging others to write to “The Oprah Show” to see a show on breastfeeding. Your voice as part of the “Breastfeeding Blitz” that I have been writing about for almost 3 months can only lend support. :)

Bottom line is that we need more education for all, and we will never get it until we work for it and demand cultural change that normalizes breastfeeding!

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Judy @MommyNews Blog September 10, 2010 at 1:58 AM

Great article Dagmar. I am thrilled that Babble removed the similac ads -the last time I looked, they were still there – so I’ll have to check it out again. It is really stooping to the lowest of lows that formula companies are trying to offer breastfeeding “support”. Like “Fearless Formula Feeder” said on PhD in Parenting’s post on this subject – they should be offering support to moms who need to or choose to use their product – not trying to undermine moms who choose otherwise.

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Minivan Mommy September 9, 2010 at 7:01 PM

I am planning a breastfeeding blog after reading the following article, I just haven’t had the time to type it out yet!

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Jamie September 9, 2010 at 7:53 PM

While reading this I was immediately reminded of a PSA to help promote breastfeeding that I thought you might want to talk about. None of the links are transferring over, but it’s hosted through MediaPost’s Out to Launch series (from 8.25.10).

“National Breastfeeding Month is upon us, so moms, whip out your boobs. TheBump.com launched a national PSA to help promote breastfeeding. Celebrity moms like Kelly Rutherford, Lisa Loeb and Ali Landry tell viewers their favorite name for their breasts (think funbags, knockers, boulders and the girls) while educating moms about the benefits of breastfeeding. Watch it here. An extended version of the PSA, featuring celeb moms describing their first time breastfeeding and their opinions on public breastfeeding (whip ’em out!), can be seen here. Another video goes into greater detail to describe the benefits of breastfeeding, which range from burning 500 calories a day, being good for the baby’s brain, and lessening your chances of developing breast cancer. See it here. Crew Cuts edited the campaign.”

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Dagmar September 9, 2010 at 8:00 PM

Hi Jamie, thanks for your comment! I actually included the link to that video you refer to: the Whip ‘Em out video :)

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Carrie September 9, 2010 at 4:32 PM

I could not agree with you more! While the formula companies, I believe, should take a big part of the blame, I also think our society in general has become somewhat lazy when it comes to breastfeeding. It’s just not convinient for some moms or it’s too much work (pumping, etc.). To those who feel this way, I’d like to ask, “Is it too incovinient or too much work to bring your child to doctors appointments because he/she is sick all the time or has health issues?”

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Amy West September 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Just wanted to chime in and say that moms do currently need a prescription for donor milk, if it’s secured through a milk bank. Some insurances will cover it in full or part.

Also, we have to be wary of the “breast is best” and “formula is second best” language. Most advocates are trying to revise the language – and standard – to be “breast is normal.”

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