We have a problem on our hands people. This problem is putting our moms and babies at risk for misleading infant feeding information and interfering with the breastfeeding support that all moms deserve. 

See exhibit A below: 

Importance of Exhibit A:

Violation of WHO Code circa 1981: THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN IN THE FALL OF 2019, IT IS OF THE FRONT COUNTER OF A LOCAL PEDIATRICIAN’S OFFICE, RIGHT HERE IN MA, USA.

Chances are you have not heard of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, also known as the WHO Code. If you have, you will learn why it is important to pay more attention to what it is about.

So what is the WHO Code and why does it matter to MA moms?

The WHO Code was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to protect a mother’s choice to breastfeed from commercial interests. Aimed at companies and marketers, the WHO Code places restrictions on advertisement and promotion of infant formula. 

The goal of the WHO Code is to protect mothers from false advertising and leave the decision to use formula up to her and her providers. It is not “anti-formula”—the WHO Code encourages breastfeeding first with the use of formula when necessary. The decision should be free of outside influence from marketing strategies. The WHO code aims to empower mothers to make their own decisions for their babies. 

What practices are regulated under the WHO Code?

  • Formula companies should not advertise to the public.
  • They should also not give free samples to mothers or healthcare workers. 
  • Marketers should not use language or imagery that “idealizes” the use of formula over breastmilk.

These practices seem commonplace in the US, don’t they? In fact, the US resisted supporting the adoption of the WHO Code in the 1980s in order to protect businesses. Even after agreeing to support it, the principles are not law in the US so they are not enforceable. While the US government has expressed verbal support for the WHO Code, US formula companies are free to advertise however they like. Even if it violates an internationally accepted code. 

What can you do to protect your right to marketing-free decision making?

  • Refuse any samples of formula given out by the company or by healthcare facilities. You can even tell them why!
  • Discuss your desire to breastfeed and make informed decisions with your providers. Ask if they are familiar with the WHO Code and if they refuse to accept samples from companies. 
  • Look for companies who have adopted policies to support the WHO Code. In the U.S., the WHO Code is self-regulated, but some companies have adopted its practices!

You, your family members, your patients, and your community, have the right to make the best decision for yourself and your baby when it comes to feeding—whether that’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination of both! Let’s look at exhibit A, take what we have learned, and spread the word!

Find more information about the WHO Code at International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

And certainly email info@massbreastfeeding.org with questions or concerns.

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