Why I Stand By Medela

Full disclosure up front: Medela sponsored my co-editor at Mamanista.com for BlogHer. And Medela has also sent me a Freestyle for review. It is a single-user pump and I have kept it and used it several times. I don’t pump often, as my babies seem to hate bottles, but I did find it very helpful when I needed to pump during my son’s recent nursing strike.

The WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes has established a set of rules restricting marketing of formula and feeding bottles and teats.

(Keep in mind that the WHO Code is just a code from a non-governmental organization and only becomes law if adopted as such by individual nations.)

Because Medela has offered giveaways of its bottle system and included bottle feeding of pumped breastmilk as an idealized image in an advertising campaign, organizations have declared that Medela is in violation of the code.

Medela argues that the WHO code is about breastmilk admits that its actions may be viewed as a violation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

There is little funding for promoting breastfeeding, when stacked up against the billion dollar budgets of the formula industry.

One approach to leveling the playing field is to place restrictions on how the makers of not only formula, but also manufacturers of bottles, market to new moms.

As much as I sympathize with the desire to keep aggressive marketing away from emotionally vulnerable new moms, this seems to be a very paternalistic response.

Instead, I prefer to work with the companies that sell breastfeeding accessories to get the financial backing for promoting breastfeeding and restoring breastfeeding to its place as the normal, default option.

As admirable as I find the spirit of the WHO Code, it puts formula on the level of a drug and bottles on the level of syringes, and meddles too much for my taste with consumer choice.

According to the WHO code, to remain in compliance, a company can manufacture and sell bottles and teats/nipples but cannot advertise or promote these products to the general public, provide samples of the product, “distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding,” or “seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children”.

The only issue I really have is with the tagline in the Medela commercial: “When you choose to breastfeed, you’re doing what’s best for your baby. When you choose Medela breastfeeding products, you’re doing what’s best for you both.”

I can see how that rankles a little. I believe that breastfeeding is usually what is best for both mom and baby.

However, rare is the modern mom who never has call for a pump. Even though my babies hated bottles, I still used a pump during my daughter’s heart operation and during both of their nursing strikes.

Medela justifies its change in its marketing by pointing to consumer questions over the BPA-free status of its products.

And while surely the company is also looking at its bottom line, I do believe it is legitimately addressing a consumer demand in advertising its bottles. Arguments that moms “already know” about Medela bottles if they use Medela pumps seem to assume a level of consumer savvy across the board that I’m not sure exists. Active in moms’ groups on and offline, I can tell you that moms who do not venture online as often just are not as aware of consumer information as those who do.

And, ultimately, I just do not have a problem with a breastpump company marketing its bottles.

In today’s world, a company that does not reach out directly to its consumers, through store displays, through events, and yes, through social media is not going to maintain its profile and market share for long.

A stronger, more responsive, more involved Medela is a company that is better able to work with advocates to promote breastfeeding as the best option. And Medela has shown itself to be a responsible and zealous partner in the past.

Although I appreciate the principled stand of severing ties with any company judged to be in violation of the WHO code, I would urge those looking at this issue to consider Medela’s marketing in the context of both the current consumer climate and Medela’s strong support of breastfeeding mothers.

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15 comments

  1. You said: “And, ultimately, I just do not have a problem with a breastpump company marketing its bottles.”

    Would you place any limits on that? How do you feel about the current Avent ad running in the BlogHer ads?

  2. Brooke Henry says:

    Here in the US we are bombarded with messaging and advertising telling us that bottlefeeding is the normal way to feed babies. I don’t think it’s asking a lot for breastfeeding/pump companies to refrain from aggressively marketing bottles. Of COURSE pumping moms require bottles, but do supposedly pro-breastfeeding companies really need to add to our bottlefeeding culture? Ethical advertising matters, so it’s troubling that Medela is so unconcerned with the values of the lactation community and those of us working hard to normalize breastfeeding. La Leche League and the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) have already severed ties to Medela, and so have I.

  3. I am a bit of a libertarian. So let me reiterate that while I do believe in supporting breastfeeding, I generally do not believe in heavy regulation, with very few exceptions.

    As to this specific case, I do not find Medela’s actions especially aggressive or egregious.

    And in light of their support of lactation consultants, innovation in breastfeeding accessories, highlighting of breastfeeding in the public eye, etc., I really believe on the whole Medela is good for the breastfeeding community.

    Do I think the specific television advertisement I’ve seen referenced is perfect? No. We can definitely pick it apart, deconstruct it, find flaws. Is it worthwhile to communicate this to Medela? Yes!

    But do I think that Medela is violating our trust? Absolutely not.

    @Annie: I haven’t seen the Avent ad. I tend to not notice ads and I have opted out of bottle/formula ads on BlogHer so that may be why I haven’t had an ad on my site (here I was thinking it was my sporadic posting). Can I find it by googling or do you have a screen capture?

    The simple answer is most likely no. That does not mean I have to support such advertising. It is one thing to heavily regulate the pharmaceutical industry, another to regulate a product that we simply find undesirable.

    @Brooke Henry
    Sure, yes, we are bombarded. I’m not disagreeing. I just don’t believe that regulation restricting a specific industry from advertising (unless it is, again, alcohol, tobacco, other dangerous substances…and then my biggest concern is really just marketing to minors) is the way to go.

    If you are a company that makes a bottle system to go with your pump, why should your hands be tied in competing with other companies making bottles? Why hamstring a company that pours dollars into actually supporting breastfeeding mothers?

    And the WHO code does not restrict aggressive marketing…it restricts ALL direct targeting of pregnant and new moms for specified products.

  4. Anonymous says:

    @Brooke –

    You are 100% spot on regarding the bottlefeeding culture here in the US. It would be a perfect world where every lacting mom could and would breastfeed their newborns. The science behind why this is the right choice is overwhelming and frankly, any mother that chooses not to is remiss in their obligation to their child to give them the best possible start in this world.

    However, the reality is, we live in a society where bottlefeeding is a necessity. There are too many forces at work in the home dynamic, marketplace and society that leave mothers few alternatives. However, what most moms can do is make the concious decision to provide breastmilk to their child and breastfeed whenever possible. It would be great if every Mom could be Michelle Duggar but it’s time to be real. Organizations such as ILCA and LLL need to stop holding on to idealistic beliefs that are counter to social realities and put their energies toward effective solutions. To sever ties with a company that has proven their dedication to a cause all of these years is beyond belief.

    Shame on the all of you who hold this storybook, rose-colored glass viewpoint. Get a clue. By the way, 1970 called, they want their ignorance back. My apologies, my frustration on this issue has reached a melting point.

  5. Respectfully, I think this is a naive, dismissive, and dangerous view of the WHO Code. The Code arose from the need to curb marketing practices that lead to infant death. While attempting to control marketing practices in the U.S. may seem paternalistic (I disagree), sampling of powdered formula in countries without clean water supplies is effectively murder. Is Medela doing that? No. Are BPA-free bottle good things? Of course. And could Medela market its bottles effectively without violating the WHO Code? Also yes. Supporting the Code is a much larger and more important issue than you assert. For many, the Code represents the line between life and death. If people think the WHO Code sweeps in harmless behavior, then get involved in changing it. Don’t just pretend the Code isn’t critically important to the life and health of children all over the world.

  6. @Anonymous – Please try to control your frustration. It will allow people to better hear your argument.

    @Jake – I’m afraid there is nothing respectful about referring to my opinion about naive.

    That may be the spirit of the WHO code, but that is not the reality of this situation. Medela was deemed in violation because of actions in the US, Great Britain, Australia, and/or Canada.

    Ultimately, it isn’t necessarily the WHO code that is at fault, but rather the interpretation. I don’t have to “get involved in changing it” because it is not a law and it is not really the issue in this case.

    What is the issue *in this case* is organizations severing ties with a company and individuals attacking that company in a very nasty way based on a very strict interpretation of the code that encompasses not only the marketing of formula but the marketing of a bottle system designed to be used with a breastpump.

    Now you may counter that infant death in the developing world is a far more important issue. And I agree. But it is not the issue here.

  7. Brooke Henry says:

    A few more points:

    Candice, you mention “I prefer to work with the companies…promoting breastfeeding and restoring breastfeeding to its place as the normal, default option”

    Isn’t this at the heart of what it means to support the WHO Code? When Medela does bottle giveaways and glossy ads with bottlefeeding mothers, breastfeeding isn’t restored to its place as the normal option.

    It’s very possible to successfully sell bottles in the US and remain WHO-Code compliant (Evenflo is a huge bottle company and chooses to stay within the code). Medela could easily adjust their marketing without violating the code and contributing to a bottlefeeding culture.

    To your comment about the breastfeeding organizations severing ties to Medela as being very “nasty”: this was an agonizing decision for ILCA and LLL that took place after many meetings trying to encourage Medela to change its marketing. This was not a decision taken lightly by any of the groups involved.

    To anonymous: I’m thrilled to have my rose-colored glasses and “ignorance” in thinking that corporations should follow higher ethical standards.

  8. @Brooke Henry

    Whatever the spirit of the WHO Code, it is being interpreted as to not allow ANY direct marketing of bottle systems.

    And while I would love to have a world where breastfeeding is the norm, I’m not willing to heavily regulate a perfectly reasonable business in order to get there.

    Furthermore, I do not believe there is anything “unethical” about Medela telling people why its bottles are good bottles or giving them away as prizes.

    My “nasty” adjective is not in reference to the organizations–I have been struggling with this post and I’m sorry I was not clearer. It is in regards to some blog posts I have seen. I will not link to them because I have no desire to give them links or traffic or acknowledgment.

  9. Candace, if you think you have opted out of bottle/formula ads on BlogHer, you would unfortunately be wrong. They changed their policy a while ago and they no longer use those opt out categories. You must request to have individual ads removed after you see them on your site. For me, that meant that hundreds of people saw the bottle ad before I could get it removed.

    It is an animated ad, so a screen capture doesn’t help a lot. But I included the text of the ad in my blog post on the issue.

    Click reload on your own blog or any page on BlogHer 5 times or so and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll see the ad.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is not a topic that I know a ton about, so I may have a terribly simplistic viewpoint on these issues, but…

    I don’t see how anyone who promotes breastfeeding can have a problem with pumps. Pumps allow women who have to work to continue to give their children breastmilk and to continue supporing their families. No brainer.

    Building from that point, I don’t understand how anyone who is okay with pumps could possibly have problems with bottles. How is the milk supposed to get from the storage bag and into the kid otherwise?

    Isn’t breast milk versus formula the issue here, not bottles?

  11. @Anonymous

    The issue depends largely on your perspective.

    I do believe that breastfeeding as opposed to just breastmilk is important.

    That said, I of course understand that many moms need to pump and sometimes bottlefeed in order to continue breastfeeding as long as they wish.

    And many of the people who are criticizing Medela actually pumped and bottlefed breastmilk more often than I have had occasion to do so. Which just shows how complex this issue and all of its implications can be.

    And, as another commenter mentioned, there are health implications, especially in countries where there is little access to clean drinking water.

    Just to clarify something: the code addresses not the manufacture or sale but only certain marketing practices.

    It is not so much the spirit or the goal of the WHO code that disturbs me as the idea that the means to this end is to threaten ostracism from the lactation community (and boycott, and on an individual level, some name-calling) for a corporation that directly markets its accessories or extols the virtues of its products in a non-approved way.

  12. WorkingMama says:

    I’m a working mother. I used a Medela breastpump. Without it, I would not have been able to nurse without giving up my career. I find the WHO Code paternalistic since I believe women are capable of researching their options and making the right decision for their family. Do those protesting Medela truly believe women will be brainwashed by a few ads? Do you really think women are so stupid?

  13. Laura says:

    Could you email me please? I’m afraid an email to you bounced back.

    Laura at BlogHer dot com

    Thanks!

  14. A few comments and questions, though I’m late to the party…(I was busy having our newest addition when the posts started popping up on this topic)

    First, I don’t believe Evenflo is compliant. Ameda was compliant prior to being purchased by Evenflo, at which time they made the statement that they would “become compliant” if I remember correctly.

    No bottle manufacturer can advertise and be compliant, isn’t that true? That is where I have a problem with the code – simply advertising BPA free information and showing pumping and breastfeeding images rather than bottle feeding images seems to me that it should be within the spirit of the code. I haven’t been able to view a summary of the print ads, so I’m not sure what images are included in the advertising.

    The tagline that you and many others are upset by is definitely pushing it, but given the wide variety of breastfeeding products that Medela manufactures, it doesn’t HAVE to mean that pumping is better – the Medela breast shield was what allowed me to nurse for the first 6wks with baby number 1 before she could latch correctly. Their nursing bras and tanks are great and I used their nursing pads and lanolin as well, all of which supported breastfeeding rather than pumping. That said I use a pump in style, collection bottles and the micro steam bags to allow me to work outside the home and provide breastmilk exclusively. They also allowed me to donate milk to the milk bank, which I was so glad to be able to do.

    So I guess that’s my long winded way of getting around to saying that while I wish there were a few things Medela was doing differently in their ads, I definitely stand by them as well. I think overall they are contributing to the breastfeeding (and breastmilk feeding) success of many mothers.

  15. Nicole Candy says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.