The big pink M logo and the corporate appropriation of breastfeeding

Thanks for all the guesses on the pink-M logo. All is now revealed:

SMA formula tin

Tigtog, Joules, Mel, you were right on with the mummy-marketing interpretation. Tigtog, you win Lauredhel’s Grade-A Cynic Prize of the Week – you were dead right.

Before you read any further, please read my footnote[1].

I spotted this logo at the Mike Brady’s blog, Boycott Nestle. (SMA is a Wyeth product – Nestle aren’t the only evil ones out there.) Mike is the Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action.

Baby Milk Action and IBFAN (the International Baby Food Action Network) focus on the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – reporting violations, increasing awareness, and engaging in community education. IBFAN outlines the Code here, and explains it further here.

The bottom line of the Code is that formula milk, complementary foods, bottles and teats should not be marketed in ways that undermine exclusive and sustained breastfeeding., and that “There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.” – by the companies themselves, by stores, or by hospitals and healthcare workers. One of the key points of the Code is that “No idealising text or pictures” should be used in labelling. This includes the prohibition of all of the following:

* pictures of infants.
* pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula.
* the terms “humanized”, “maternalized” or similar terms.

Marketing to hospitals, healthcare workers, mothers and the general public is incredibly, overwhelmingly powerful. Infant food is a massive global money-spinner. Infant food and feeding-equipment corporations will do anything in their power to violate the Code and to get more of their substitutes sold. Whatever it takes. Whatever loophole they can find.

All of them pay lip service to the Code in countries where they think this will help their public profile, and all of them lie, systematically and deliberately. The lying is most extreme in countries where they can readily get away with it, but it’s not confined to them. Here’s a recent example of a violating UK ad: Avent digitally manipulating images to lie about a bottle-feeding baby’s mouth action being “identical” to a breastfeeding baby. (As an aside – that breastfeeding photo is a classic example of a terrible-looking latch.) Right now, a battle is being waged in the Philippines to enforce the Code, and formula companies are fighting it tooth and nail in court.

Infant food corporations in urbanised countries have now realised that their prime market is breastfeeding mothers, or mothers who would rather be breastfeeding. Most birthing women say they wish to breastfeed, that they’d like to try. Few are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months, and very very few have used no formula by 12 months. That’s an awful lot of formula used by the “breastfeeding mums” market. So what do the companies do? Try desperately to pretend that their product simulates breastfeeding, using every subliminal and explicit trick in the book.

So what better way to sell a breastmilk substitute to a mother who’d rather be breastfeeding? Slap on a logo of a pink heart-shaped breastfeeding mother-baby pair, just stylised enough to have a hope at plausible deniability. Append a slogan: “Love the milk you give.”

Noxious slimeballs.

[1] This type of discussion has a tendency to derail into “nasty do-gooders want to ban formula and make mums feel guilty”, so I’ll put a pre-emptive disclaimer here. Some women choose to use breastmilk substitutes. Some women are unable to produce enough milk to feed their child, for various reasons, and choose breastmilk substitutes in the absence of donor milk or in preference to it. Many, many women are poorly supported, poorly informed, and end up using breastmilk substitutes even if it wasn’t their original choice. None of these choices is made in a vacuum. This post is not about those individual women and their stories and how guilty they should or shouldn’t feel as individuals. It is about the system that fails women and babies, by failing to support breastfeeding, and by not having donor milk available for the women who need it, and about the larger structures that support and encourage the normalisation of massively high rates of artificial feeding. The Code is not about making formula and bottles unavailable or inaccessible, it about about preventing their unethical, exploitative marketing.

Categories: health


8 replies

  1. On “the larger structures that support and encourage the normalisation of massively high rates of artificial feeding,” I’m the stay-at-home dad of an exclusively breastmilk-fed four-month-old, and I’ve been shocked at how few resources there are out there for folks who are giving babies breastmilk in bottles. Even progressive parenting books tend to blithely assume that bottle=formula, and to neglect breastmilk-specific bottle-feeding questions. It’s really quite flabbergasting.

  2. Brooklynite: absolutely. There are the online pumping mums communities – Pumpmoms being perhaps the biggest – but their mailing list is not accessible to dads for breastmilk-feeding questions, as far as I know, and are only accessible to women with the resources to access them. Then there’s the group I run, EPers, which has an even more limited membership, being a “safe space” peer support area for mothers with very severe breastfeeding issues. I’m not aware of any related communities for dads.
    Having copped the sharp end of the odd “look” when feeding my lad a bottle of breastmilk, I’m hearing you on that one. I’m not sure whether the looks are pointier when it’s a woman feeding the bottle compared to a man (when the carer is male, it’s immediately obvious to the eye that direct breastfeeding is not available at that moment), but it doesn’t really matter – a snap judgement is a snap judgement.
    In good news, all the times I’ve pumped in public, I’ve met with nothing but smiles and assistance. I’m not sure how it tends to go down in the States, but around here, I’ve not run into problems. And I’ve had a couple of lovely experiences of older women sitting down and telling me their stories of breastfeeding and expressing.
    This is probably getting too long for a comment, but there’s also the issue of defeatism among breastfeeding supporters. Almost everyone seems to be instructed (by midwives, doctors, peer counsellors) that long-term expressing is impossible if the expressing is exclusive (or over very long hours)- that supply will inevitably drop away over time. Yet, when women find true peer support, I’ve found that they’re feeding their babies breastmilk for six months, a year, two years, even more. These are perhaps the more motivated ones, having sought the support in the first place, but it does put paid to this particular myth.
    (If I can be of any use anytime, just drop me a line. Do you mind me mentioning a couple of favourite bits of information? I’m guessing you’ve run across this fabulous LLL page already, but just in case, here it is again. And there’s this. which has saved us more liquid gold than I can count.)
    Did you hear the one about the daycare centre that charges fifty dollars a week extra for breastfed babies?

  3. This thread is an eye-opener for me. I breastfed easily for both my kids for a bit over 6 months each – longer didn’t work for me for various reasons. I only ever had to express a few times for babysitters, never systematically.
    I really admire the commitment to breastmilk meaning pumping for months because of physical feeding problems.

  4. I had a friend how expressed for six months for her baby because she didn’t get the support she needed to establish breastfeeding, but was determined to give her baby breastmilk for at least six months. After the first six months he went onto formula because expressing for a fast growing hungry baby was really starting to become an issue.
    On the whole ‘it costs more to have a breastfed baby here’ I think it’s just the predjudice of that particular centre owner. I don’t think it happens here. I suspect we would have heard about it by now. The ABA would be onto something like that in a heartbeat.

  5. Yes, an attempt to charge more for breastfed babies would go completely against Australian national childcare accreditation regulations. There are people legally fighting this case in the USA, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

  6. NB to readers – Lauredhel posted this on her LJ as well, and the discussion there has been very interesting and well worth a read.

  7. … bastards. Fucking bastards. I cannot adequately express my absolute hatred for Nestle and their ilk. We’ve personally boycotted them for the last ten years, and I have no compunction about telling people why (though I do try to be pleasant about it!)
    I breastfed my son for 13 months (received wisdom at the time was that 12 month’s worth would, if not absolutely guarantee he wouldn’t get asthma, at least make him more resistant to it. Plus it made perfect sense to me, to boost his immune system as best I could.) He’s now 12, and disgustingly healthy: on the rare occasions he does pick up a bug at school he shrugs it off in a couple of days (unlike me, who suffers for at least two weeks…)
    … I’d better stop. Thinking about the harm these… I can’t think of a term bad enough for them… pushes my blood pressure through the roof…

  8. There are so many companies to boycott just under the Nestle banner. With the recent additions of the Body Shop, and now everything Gerber-related.
    Broadening the boycott to all Codebreakers is getting almost impossible, because every formula, bottle and teat company (and a number of baby-solid-food companies) violates.
    To boycott Wyeth, the company that produced this logo, you’re looking at avoiding Advil, Robitussin, Alesse, Lo/Ovral, Ovrette, Norplant, Inderal, Premarin, Triphasil, Dimetapp, Caltrate, Effexor, Alavert, Ativan, Chapstick, Preparation H, Protonix, Prevnar, HIBTiter, Minocin, a huge number of veterinary products (“Fort Dodge” brands) – along with S-26, SMA, Infasoy.
    Wyeth is being boycotted by some for other reasons: being a top donor to the US Bush government, animal cruelty.
    What we really need, I think, is a list and food and medication products that aren’t made by Code violators, cigarette companies or slaveowners. It might be a much smaller list.

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