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.