The anti-breastfeeding lobby would say that banning formula advertising takes away choices from parents and makes those who did not breastfeed feel guilty… For a start, no one can give guilt to another, the guilt surrounding feeding choices is a subject for a whole other blog post, for today I’d like to consider another way of looking at the WHO code’s ban on the advertising of infant formula…
Formula does not need advertising. Mothers who need it know it is there, they know where to buy it, they can ask their health professionals for information, the instructions for each brand are carefully printed on each packet because it is so very important to make the milk up correctly to minimise the risks of making it too concentrated, too dilute or introducing bugs your baby would be better without.
Advertising formula is simply there to LIMIT parents free choice by making them believe that any one brand is better than any other and it is there to subtly (and not so subtly) undermine public confidence in human milk. Women who need or want to use formula need good advice that they don’t get from advertising and they need to know about any applicable public health schemes which help with the high cost of feeding babies a human milk substitute. Women also need to know the relative health costs and benefits of their choices and they need good support when they choose to breastfeed to ensure that they stand the maximum chance of it being a successful and fulfilling relationship.
Advertising formula as ‘as close to breastmilk as possible’ feeds into the guilt system, subconsciously reminding parents that the product is only almost as good, and ensuring that those who do choose formula remain fiercely protective of their decisions and are hostile to those women who succeeded or made a choice that was not available to them.
Formula advertising removes choice. It is the hottest fuel for the anti-breastfeeding debate and parents don’t even realise that is what is happening or that they are being manipulated by the multi-million pound advertising budgets of those with a vested, profit related, interest in ensuring that women do not breastfeed, either through ‘choice’ or through a lack of support to ensure that breastfeeding works.
Formula advertising should be banned to protect the rights of mothers and babies to choose how they feed their babies free from commercial pressure. If the demand is there from a basis of need, as an essential food product, then advertising is completely unnecessary and banning it would not matter in the slightest.
Support for parents is not helped by fostering hostility towards those who make different choices or have different opportunities. It is time for proper support for those who want to breastfeed, and proper support for those who do not. Banning formula advertising, in all its guises, would go a long way towards achieving both.