Not evil, just corporations and marketing 101.

I feel the need to also publish this post tonight. I wrote this at the same time as I did my previous post, but they needed separating in order for my thoughts on both to be clear and concise (and to make sense to me!). My friend who wrote about the "heart" vs "brain" conversations when it comes to breastfeeding or not, also brought up something that I feel I need to explore in a bit more detail. She said in her post that:

...groups that appear extremist seldom accomplish much beyond polarizing the already divided public and swaying public opinion away from their original goals. I think the breastfeeding “movement” falls victim to this, getting labeled by the crazy behaviours of a smaller subsection of our population.  This makes us feel sad and defeated, and we react from that emotional place as opposed to regrouping and considering more carefully our efforts.

Likewise, the women who find themselves on the other side of the debate, feel persecuted by the more extremist movement and, in an effort to self-protect and to defend, respond from an emotionally charged place to advocacy efforts that they perceive as being an attack on their choices.

These statements have forced me to take a very hard look at my advocacy efforts and my messaging to all mothers and to explore why this is happening as well.

I realize that I can never speak for or about mothers who have formula fed their children, as I have never done this. Really. If someone ever asked me how to prepare a bottle of formula, I would have absolutely NO IDEA!  And I would have to point them to the best resource I know, the formula manufacturer. I am also not a breastfeeding expert. I am not an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or even a La Leche League leader. I am a mother who has continuously been nursing one or both of my children for 5.5 years and in a few special circumstances. I know where to go for advice and more education if needed and I share that along with my own personal experiences with any and all who want it (or in the case of my blog, choose to read about it).

I also want you all to know that I am not about being 'the hippy child' versus 'the big bad corporation' either. It would be very hypocritical of me to be that person, coming from a career in the pharmaceutical industry and also as someone who relies heavily on modern medicines to keep me healthy.

I  live by another saying in my life, and that is, "Nothing happens in this world until someone sells you something." Be that a product, a service, an idea or a cause. Formula manufacturers, along with most large corporations are not EVIL per se. They exist to make money for their shareholders and to sell their product. They are there to grow their market share and increase their bottom line. Plain and simple. Not evil, just capitalist. (I realize that this in and of itself could be a whole other conversation on it's own, but we'll leave it for another time!)

The problem with the formula manufacturers is that their market is mothers... with babies. And their main competition... yup, you guessed it, is BREASTMILK. And therefore their main target audience and how they GROW that market share is by focusing their efforts and advertising dollars on mothers who are breastfeeding (or the people who directly influence these mothers).

And here is where it gets all messy...

No one wants to believe that a company would willingly undermine a mother's breastfeeding relationship. No one wants to think that there is some evil plan conceived in a board room somewhere to get you to fail at breastfeeding. And you know what... NO ONE is actually doing that. There is no evil plan, there is just a corporate need (greed) to increase market share and make more money. Now to some, this may be the evil in and of itself, but really, this is just business as usual in a free market.

Does it suck? Yes. Are the marketing practices of these companies questionable and downright harmful to the breastfeeding rates in North America. Yes and Yes. Does this mean that they are being successful and doing a good job? Some would argue that yes, they are. This is after all a billion dollar industry and all this money = more dividends for shareholders and more market share. And so they continue on marketing, selling and growing their businesses.

On the other hand, we have breastfeeding.

NOT a billion dollar industry. Actually a free and readily renewable resource and with the right information, resources and support, a potentially life saving one as well.

Breastfeeding does not have fancy logos and pamphlets to pepper our doctors offices with. Outside of the ACTUAL breast milk, you don't get any free samples of anything in the mail or at the hospital after you've had your baby. Breastfeeding does not have millions of dollars to spend on ad campaigns with giggling, happy babies. Breastfeeding does not have any 'add-on' branded accessories that you need to buy in order to do it properly at home or 'on the go'. Breastfeeding does not have the 'continuing medical education' dollars from its manufacturers to spend on further educating our health care practitioners about it or give them the resources for referrals to the real experts.

So where does this leave us?

From an outsider's view it can look like a real David and Goliath scenario. A billion dollar industry with reach and scope worldwide versus...

Boobs. Big ol' breast milk producing boobies.

But the hard truth of this is that, in this fight, no one ever really 'wins'.

One side feels that the general public is being misled and misinformed about both breastfeeding and formula.  There are protests, there are efforts to help the public understand more about 'the competition', there are peer groups and grass-roots organizations formed to give support and alternatives for infant feeding. And what happens time and again is that in the zeal and desire to educate and inform and yes, even expose the formula manufacturers and to an extend formula itself, the message is lost. It gets lost to the point that even when good, solid, evidence-based and peer-reviewed research and new information is available (either about breast milk/breastfeeding or formula), this too gets poo-poo'd and chalked up something that those "crazy breastfeeding (insert derogatory and inflammatory word here)" are saying.

And this makes me sad.

Because here is what I think is also happening. I think that the more we 'fight' about how we feed our children, the more we continue this breastfeeder versus formula-feeder stance.... the happier the shareholders at the formula companies are going to be.

Let me explain.

Mothers (and most people actually) who feel that they are being PUSHED to do anything, will push back. And in this case, if the push is to breastfeed (and the message being heard by some is "at all costs"), I think what we risk doing is simply pushing more and more mothers away from our messages, our information and from breastfeeding at all, and into the open, waiting and seemingly so very understanding (cue the BRILLIANT marketing) arms of the formula manufacturers.

So what is the answer here. How do we as breastfeeding advocates help spread a message and help further educate mothers and families with ALL the information they need about both breastfeeding AND formula feeding, without all the 'bashing' of the formula companies? To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I have been breastfeeding for over 5 years, have been an active participant in the advocacy movement for the past 3 and in all that time, not once have I ever seen a discussion about breastfeeding or formula-feeding progress beyond the "I am a mother, doing the best I can for my babies and it is my choice." rhetoric. From both sides.

What I do know is this. Formula manufacturers are companies (not people). They have a bottom line and that is to make money. In order to make more money they need to grow a market. And anyone who knows anything about marketing or has even taken a rudimentary Marketing 101 class in university knows that in order to do that, you need to convince said market that they NEED your product. If you create the NEED, they will COME! If you focus on how difficult it can be to breastfeed, provide 24 hour 1-800 numbers to help whenever that NEED arises, show TV commercials of happy, giggling babies who have had a "happy feeding", well... it is what it is folks. We live in a nation that, although we may embrace the World Health Organization and their standards for the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, neither  the Canadian or the US governments have enacted legislation to ensure that anyone is bound in any way by its guidelines. Companies are free to market and advertise their products in the best way they see fit to make more money and grow their shares.

I don't really have any answers here and I don't know that there are any. In the face of all of this, I can only promise that I will COMMIT to keeping the dialogue open and to continue to advocate from a place of positivity.

I can not fight the Nestles and Similacs and Enfamils of the world on a grand scale. But I can use my voice, a NOISY one I think, and I will continue to speak out against what I believe are unethical and undermining marketing practices by these giants of industry.

I will not judge anyone's choice in this matter. Breastmilk, donor milk, formula. Doesn't matter to me one iota. As long as it is your choice and you are happy with it. (Happy with it, being the operative term here.)

I will share my experiences and those of others that have chosen this path. I will share as many resources as I can here on my blog and if you need more please email me and I will help you find someone in your city, town or hamlet who can help.

And I will not stop talking or writing about breastfeeding, and the many options for infant feeding that are becoming more available to mom's who are willing to seek them out and explore these options.

Thank you,

Natasha~

P.S This very lengthy post is an OPINION piece. MY opinion. Please keep that in mind when you are commenting.

P.P.S. Any comments that are inflammatory or divisive or that PROVE MY POINT about being over zealous in either camp, will be reviewed and probably deleted.

P.P.P.S. I am very excited to have found a way to use the word IOTA in a blog post! Just saying...