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Formula for disaster

Yesterday, we went to a reunion for the NICU families and staff where Kimberley and Perrin stayed as infants. I almost didn’t go. It seemed like everything was stacked against me, but I decided to go ahead and go because there are a few of our former roommates that I wanted to see.

Now, the way this is set up is more like a convention than a reunion. In my head, I refer to it as nicu-con. You sign in, and there’s freebies and vendors and explanations of various services that are to parents and children. There are craft tables and fun fair-like games for the older kids. There are cookies and punch. You get the idea.

So as we’re making our way through the line, there is a rep from Mead/Johnson, handing out bags of formula and other items with the Similac logo on them. I hear the rep ask the lady behind me if her son is still in the formula stage. No mention of whether he is on formula. She just assumes he is. The woman said that he was, and this rep started loading up the bag. Then she stuck another box inside and said “This is for when he’s older. You’ll need this to add to his whole milk.”

Need? Why would an older child need an additional formula substitute added to their milk? That’s right, they don’t, but now the formula company has this mother convinced that she can’t properly feed her toddler without the help of Mead Johnson. Cha-ching.

Then we get a little further down the line, and there’s another rep, handing out pediasure. This one asked if I wanted pediasure and I said “No thanks. I make my own.” Then I pointed at my boobs. We moved further down, past a table for March Of Dimes, Moms Of Multiples, the volunteer committee that runs the event, and I don’t remember what else. What was missing? There was no lactation consultant. There was nobody from Medela or any other pump company. There was no flier on nursing. No cute little rattle with “Hygeia” on it. Nothing.

I’m not here to nag people about their own personal use of formula. I get that it has its place, yadda yadda. I don’t typically make posts like this, because someone somewhere will chime in and say “But I couldn’t nurse!” I’m not here to argue about how someone feeds their baby, and I’m not here to make anyone feel bad. Please don’t put anything like that in the comments either if someone does mention not being able to nurse, because guilt will get us nowhere. I’m really here to complain about corporate greed.

Section 6 of the WHO International Code Of Marketing Of Breast-Milk Substitutes specifically states that formula samples and promotional items are not to be handed out in a healthcare facility, and that the only time formula should be supplied is when the child has a need for it. It should not be offered just to be offered, and if it is offered, it is the responsibility of the healthcare center to continue to provide this breast-milk substitute as long as it is required.

Nothing happens to you (at least in this country) if you go against the WHO’s guidelines, but it really makes you look like an ass. As this link states, “Hospitals should market health, and nothing else.”

Even if a person can’t nurse for whatever reason, and I’ll even go so far as to include personal discomfort due to something like prior sexual abuse, wouldn’t we be doing other children a favor if, instead of seeing “Similac” on that rattle in their playmate’s toy room, they saw a breastfeeding slogan or the name of a pump manufacturer. I know pump ¬†companies have their own ethical issues. I get that. I also know that breast-milk itself doesn’t bring in an income that would pay for the making of pencils and bibs for marketing purposes, so we have to take what we can get.

Very few people argue that breast-milk isn’t the optimum choice for a child. Even those that aren’t comfortable with nursing and don’t want to do the work of pumping will usually acknowledge that formula is a substitute. The attitudes won’t change if we don’t make any effort.

I can appreciate that this convention probably costs a good bit of money between advertising it, having t-shirts made, and so on, but there are other ways to get money that don’t completely destroy all of the efforts of the lactation department.

That one can of formula and that one box of crap that is supposedly needed in whole milk is not going to make that much difference over the span of the time that a baby is using it, even if it is formula fed, anyway. It’s completely unneeded, and they’re not offering it because they care. They’re offering it because they’re just as bad as drug dealers. They get you hooked with that one can and then they make you pay.

No, there’s no requirement to follow the WHO’s guidelines but if the hospital will bend over backwards to get every other recognition possible, why not go for making it a Baby-friendly hospital too? Especially since one of the biggest selling points in advertisements for this hospital is that it’s the only level 3 NICU in the region?

The only thing I can think of is money. As with everything else, they’re putting their own greed above the wellbeing of their patients. I’m not incredibly surprised. Just saddened.


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