The WHO and UNICEF recently released their joint findings on the impact of marketing in the sector of formula milk.
The study, commissioned by WHO and UNICEF, was undertaken between August 2019 and April 2021 by a specialist research team with commercial marketing and behaviour change expertise, and conducted in eight countries – Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), and Viet Nam. The largest-ever study of its kind, it draws on surveys with over 8500 pregnant women and mothers of young children (aged 0-18 months) and more than 300 health professionals. The report exposes the aggressive marketing practices used by the formula milk industry and highlights impacts on families’ decisions about how to feed their infants and young children.
It is apparent from the report that the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding. From the moment you are pregnant, you begin to research best practices to ensure you have the healthiest baby possible. Milk marketing executives are aware of this, and track your interest, logging you on their future sales spreadsheet. By drawing on your fears and insecurities as you navigate your new normal, they spin the truth about their products and utilize trusted sources to spread their misinformation.
Formula milk marketing is powered by enormous budgets, which deliberately misuse science for profit. The ingrained messaging in our society is driving the over-consumption of formula milk and discouraging breastfeeding. It is also undermining women’s confidence and cynically exploiting parents’ instinct to do the best for their children. The consequences for children and families are significant, as consumption of milk formula can adversely affect children’s health, growth and development. It can also incur quite significant costs for families who can ill afford it.
Let’s be clear: breastfeeding is the best possible source of nutrition for babies. Decades of research continue to reveal the incredible properties of mothers’ own milk for growth, preventing infections, bonding, and brain development. Breastfeeding also supports the health of mothers.
Formula milk has its place for women and parents who are not able to do so or those who can not do so due to the result of other factors – such as employment that is not supportive of breastfeeding. Yet, breastmilk and breastfeeding still remains the best possible option. Exploitative marketing practices continue to be immensely detrimental to maternal and child healthcare, and global health while feeding a misleading narrative into our communities. We must amplify breastfeeding as the best possible practice.
My Wellbeing Foundation Africa is committed to doing so, and throughout our dedicated Alive and Thrive, Mamacare+Nlift, WBFA-Laerdal, and Mamacare360 baby-friendly lactation support promotion programming, and dedicated NICU-specific WBFA-MedelaCares Partnership to help Nigeria’s 378,000 premature infants annually receive the benefits of breastmilk, WBFA fully endorses the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes – The landmark public health agreement passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981.
Breast milk helps keep your baby healthy, you healthy, and bonds you together through skin-to-skin contact. It truly is the perfect food for your baby.