Mommy Bloggers Paid to Review Similac App That Sabotages Breastfeeding

by Dagmar Bleasdale on February 24, 2011

As a breastfeeding advocate who helps moms interested in breastfeeding or struggling with it with encouragement and resources, I’m so disappointed to find out that a few mommy bloggers decided to review the Similac StrongMoms Baby Journal iPhone application for money paid by Abbott Lab, some even though they are educated about breastfeeding and breastfed their own babies.

Formula companies are at it again, marketing aggressively to new moms. I openly boycott Nestle for their unethical practices of pushing their wares, but the fact that a formula company is now using mommy bloggers to sell their product is a new low.

I first saw an ad for the Similac app on a blog that so far has impressed me and then received a tweet from The Marketing Mama that she had written a post about this questionable app.

This is upsetting to me on so many levels:

1. This application is to promote one thing only: Similac formula.

This application is a marketing campaign, and the fact that Similac even included tracking breastfeeding efforts of moms in their app is a joke, because obviously Similac isn’t in the business of helping you succeed with breastfeeding — they want to sell as much formula as possible and encourage you to “immediately connect with Similac’s live Feeding Expert for your infant feeding questions.” Enough said. “Feeding Experts” are not educated, knowledgeable lactation specialists.

I understand that this application has many other features that mothers might like and find helpful, and that’s fine. I’m focusing here on the fact that a formula company is including a breastfeeding feature on its app and wants moms to buy into Similac’s claim that it help them with breastfeeding when all it will do is instill doubts about the “correctness” of them feeding their child.

Because how much a baby is drinking while nursing can’t really be measured as it can with bottles, a common concern new moms have, this app will probably lead to more moms using formula because they have “Similac” on their mind using this application all day and only need to push a button to be connected with a formula sales person.

If you want or need to feed your child formula and use this app, go right ahead, just don’t expect this tool to help you with breastfeeding. You’d be much better off to call your local La Leche League leader or find other resources like Kellymom that are truly interested in you succeeding with breastfeeding.

The best advise I ever got about breastfeeding was from my doula, who said, “If you want to breastfeed and want to succeed, toss out the sample of formula you’ll get so you aren’t tempted to use it.” I did.

Not having formula in the house makes you work harder at learning to breastfeed because you don’t have anything in the house that could substitute for breast milk. How long do you think it will take for a sleep-deprived new moms to think of switching to formula after having this app in her face every few minutes and after that baby doesn’t act like it should according to the application?

2. This application will mess with your head if you are a new mom.

One of the headlines on the website promoting this app reads: “Get in sync with baby’s needs.” That’s the last thing this application will do. I never followed a schedule with my son — because babies don’t follow a schedule. Schedules are for adults; babies are only about getting their immediate needs taken care of right away.

Breastfeeding is all about learning to tune into the cues of your baby and about feeding on demand — when the baby is hungry and not about when an application beeps. I literally threw out the schedule I got from the hospital I was supposed to fill out — my son was nursing every 25 minutes in the beginning; there was no way he wasn’t getting enough milk.

3. Do we really need one more thing to distract us?

Do you really need or want an application to keep track of the number of poopy diapers? I have blogged about my resistance to even get a smart phone because I don’t want to be one of those Blackberry-addicted moms. For my taste, we already have too many electronic distractions in our over-scheduled, beeping, blinking life.

Yes, I forgot which breast I let my son nurse on last once in a while, but what’s the big deal? I can’t imagine having to pick up my phone every few minutes to record something. That would have made me terribly nervous as a first-time mother. My suggestion: have your husband/partner buy you a pretty nursing bracelet to keep track of the feedings.

Another great tip I got from my doula was to stay in bed with my baby — for days. Someone else can do the dishes. Your most important job in those crucial first few days is to take care of yourself, to conserve your energy, and to really get to know your baby.

If you want to breastfeed, there is only a small window for you both to learn to do it right to succeed with it, so wasting time with an application isn’t what I would have chosen even if this app would have been around.

4. I wish bloggers would be more discerning about letting themselves get used and bought to promote brands. This goes for saying no to “a change to win” a $10 gift card for a product review that’s going to take you an hour to write or getting a lot of money or trips from big companies.

There is a frustrating trend of mommy bloggers being pursued by brands to write paid reviews. I have blogged about saying no to many product review requests — I rather spend that time with my family and have less money and just buy one less sweater, as I have mentioned here before.

I’m very cautious to attach my name to any company — I have worked to hard to establish myself as a professional blogger and brand. Being associated with this Similac controversy that already has made national headlines (“Abbott Pays Bloggers For Positive Reviews of Its Similac App“) would be my worst nightmare.

I’m not saying I won’t do a paid review or become a brand ambassador, I’m saying I research the company as much as I can and see if they and their product stand for what I stand for. I’m not naming the names of the bloggers involved here because this is not about name calling, this is about thinking twice about being part of a marketing campaign. I feel bad for bloggers who find themselves in the middle of a bad situation like this.

I wonder how much Abbott paid these mommy bloggers and if they still think it was worth pushing a product that really doesn’t do anything to further breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding isn’t about counting every burp and running to your phone every few minutes, it’s about taking time to bond with your baby and meeting his or her needs.

Was it worth attaching themself to such a questionable product? Couldn’t they see that this app would cause a great uproar, especially from breastfeeding supporters?

{picture source of app}

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody July 22, 2011 at 2:58 AM

One of the things I had difficulty with in breastfeeding my first child was keeping track of when and for how long he nursed. This was important information to me because (a) I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect and (b) I like having that sort of information so that if something isn’t going right I can give all possible information to the doctor. We used a notebook to keep track of such things, and I was absolutely horrible about remembering to write in it, especially through the night.

That said, as my iPod is basically an extension of my arm these days the likelihood of me having it and therefore using the app for tracking makes great sense to me. I do believe the “prediction” tool is a load of nonsense, and won’t pay it any mind at all I’m sure. I am hopeful that it will at least help me keep track of things. The first time around was really difficult for me, and I’d like to hope that this will help.

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Karen Bannan from NaturalAsPossibleMom March 23, 2011 at 12:31 AM

Here’s the thing: Not everyone breastfeeds. I didn’t. It just wasn’t for me. Weird, I know, based on the rest of the way I live my life. And there are plenty of other people out there who make a choice like I did or are unable to produce their own milk and are forced into bottle feeding. Still others do a little of both — nurse during the day, but give a bottle of expressed milk or formula so they can get some much-needed rest.

When my first baby was born my husband and I took turns at night. We used a dry erase board to leave each other messages. “Ate 3 ounces. Changed wet diaper. No dirty diaper yet! Daddy is worried.” (That’s one of the actual messages.) An app would have been wonderful for people like us, who were sharing the feeding and changing duties.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bloggers reviewing an app that people might actually use. I also don’t think that someone who wants to breastfeed is going to be swayed by a branded app. To each her own, right? Why not support each other no matter how we decide to feed our babies? That seems like a better option to me!

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Nicole Feliciano March 2, 2011 at 3:52 PM

Dagmar,

This is a lovely personal essay. And your motives are clear and admirable. I do think there is a place for sponsored posts. I am going to check out these posts and see if they cross a line or not. Maybe the women involved didn’t have the chance to breastfeed.

I am undoubtedly pro-breastfeeding and did so for my two girls, but I hate beating up the community that had to rely on formula. That being said, Similac does an awfully good job at marketing to hospitals already. I agree that an app targeting sleep-deprived new moms seems a little sneaky.

You gave bloggers a lot to think about with your post.

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Dagmar March 2, 2011 at 4:43 PM

Hi Nicole, thanks for your comment :)

I have NOTHING against moms who are using formula — I’m sad I have to keep pointing that out. I’m passionate about breastfeeding, that doesn’t mean I think moms who use formula are bad mothers. I don’t think that, plus it’s their business. I just want to assist moms who want help with breastfeeding.

As I understand, many of the bloggers who reviewed this Similac app actually breastfed their children — to what extent I don’t know specifically. I wonder if Similar made a point to choose bloggers for this campaign that did breastfeed to make their claims sound more credible…

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Emilie March 2, 2011 at 10:08 PM

Actually they didn’t. The form we filled out to be selected for this campaign asked nothing about whether we breastfed or formula fed our children. It did of course ask if we owned an iPhone (or iPod Touch or iPad) to be certain we could download the app.

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Rachael @ Empowering Mommy February 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Goodness! I can certainly see lots of points of view on this article but I do think that Mommy Bloggers attacking Mommy Bloggers really needs to stop. I was one of the bloggers who wrote about this app and while I breastfeeding mom, I did actually like this app. Actually I loved it! Why? Having had a child who ended up being hospitalized with jaundice, I wish I could have tracked my feedings of her better. Had I realized that she was getting so little milk – I could have pushed it a little bit more. I also could have gone into the hospital a little more prepared for the questions.

A brand new baby with a mom who has never breastfed can be helped by an app like this. Do I love that Similac makes it? Personally, no but also I don’t believe that moms are so stupid to just give up because they have an app made by Similac. I think we are not giving moms very much credit and giving formula companies too much credit.

It was a smart app that many moms will love and benefit from. There will be moms that will hate – don’t download it. End of story.

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Emilie February 28, 2011 at 7:45 AM

As one of the bloggers who chose to share this app with my readers, I’ll admit I never imagined such an uproar about it. I never called my post a review because it wasn’t. I can’t accurately review this when my youngest just turned three. Instead, I simply shared a new app that is available for anyone who thought they would enjoy its features. Collective Bias paid me for my time to download, play around with the app and tell my readers about it. (Positive thoughts or negative)

I exclusively breastfed both my boys until my supply made it impossible at about 8 months (I worked full time and pumping reduced my supply) and so I chose to focus on the BF features. I like the feature with a timer (so you know how long they ate, and on each breast) and which breast to start with next time. I never put my babies on a strict schedule and if I used this app today I wouldn’t use it to track when to feed my baby next but I think it would be cool to see the trends. I would use it more as a first time mother when I would have been more unsure of myself.

I wouldn’t have let a Similac app push me into suddenly formula feeding my babies just like I didn’t let that formula sample they sent me either. Why is this any different and why are we suddenly these horribly unethical bloggers because we chose to share a free app with our readers? Nowhere in my post did I even mention what I thought of Similac formula or endorse the product. In fact, I didn’t really even discuss formula at all and instead focused on breastfeeding. I shared a few features of the app and how it might help a new mom/caretaker. That doesn’t make me a sell out and it doesn’t mean I’m pushing my readers to formula feed. That is a decision that each mother has to make for herself, although I always hope that each mother that can breastfeed, does.

I stand behind my post and I think it is sad that so many bloggers are being blasted for sharing an app with readers.

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Dagmar February 28, 2011 at 7:56 AM

Hi Emilie, thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. Like I said, if bloggers really thought this is a good app, then it’s their right to say so. It’s their right to take money and be compensated. I just personally wouldn’t have attached myself to a product that has to do with a formula company, especially as a breastfeeding advocate, and I wanted moms to be aware of my reservations about this app because I believe it will make it even harder to succeed with breastfeeding.

I don’t have to be right, this is just my opinion. And I hear yours. Thanks again.

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Terri Henry February 28, 2011 at 12:57 AM

A great post Dagmar – we really need as few distractions as possible to get in the way of bonding and breastfeeding our babies. I relied completely on kellymom in those early days of breastfeeding and got all the answers I needed. I am now a tandem nursing Mama of 2 and all is well, no apps required! Thanks for your continued passion on breastfeeding.

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Stephanie February 27, 2011 at 8:20 AM

I FF and never put my son on a scheduale. When he was hungary I went into the kitchen and made a bottle.

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