“Medela Mom Mavens”: The Social Media Spam Offensive

Medela, an infant feeding bottle and breastpump company, decided nearly a year ago that they were no longer committed to adhering to the World Health Organisation Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code). The Code covers the marketing (not the supply, but the marketing) of infant formulas, feeding bottles and teats, and foods marketed for infants younger than six months.

Many in the lactation community were disappointed by Medela’s move to repudiate the Code, as Medela was previously seen as a “white hat” company. Some authorities and organisations moved to expunge Medela from their sponsor lists and allowable conference exhibitors, in accordance with their codes of ethics – La Leche League and ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association) among them. Medela didn’t care. Selling bottles and bottle-feeding is where the money is, and in the absence of any legal enforcement of the WHO Code, they know what side their bread is buttered.

Now they’ve gone a step further to the dark side. “Medela Mom Mavens” is an initiative which seems designed to recruit mothers to spam social networks. They’re calling the recruited mothers “breastfeeding ambassadors”. I’ve documented their advertising in some detail here, as Medela has somewhat of a history of erasing objected-to advertising. Here’s the recruitment intro:

Medela is a company that has been driven by the importance of breastfeeding and its health benefits to children and women for nearly half a century. As a result, Medela has created a group of breastfeeding ambassadors to share knowledge about the many benefits of breastfeeding, as well as breastfeeding advice, with other moms and moms-to-be.

As a part of a community of uniquely qualified women known as “Medela Mom Mavens,” your experience and your support could have a significant impact on women and their babies.
As a Medela Mom Maven you’ll have:

* A Chance to make a difference by teaching other moms about the benefits of breastfeeding
* A First Look at new Medela products
* A Voice to express your opinion to Medela

To qualify as a Maven, mothers need to answer a series of Yes/No questions, as follows:

I am a mom.

I am currently breastfeeding or have breastfed within the past six months.
I used Medela breastpump(s) to express milk for feedings and had an overall positive experience with the breastpump(s).
I am comfortable speaking with other women about my breastfeeding and/or breastpumping experiences.
I feel comfortable about recommending nursing to other moms.
I believe women should try to exclusively provide breast milk to their babies for the first six months of their lives.
I would find it rewarding to help educate other women on the health benefits of breastfeeding.
I would be comfortable recommending Medela breastpumps to moms and moms-to-be.
I would be willing to discuss breastfeeding issues and to recommend Medela in social networks, both online and face-to-face.
I would be willing to report back to Medela about my discussions on breastfeeding, pumping and Medela products.
(Optional) I would like to share with you some of my personal feelings about breastfeeding and/or breastpumping:

After recruiting Mavens by this process, Medela proceeds to instruct them on how to promote the Company:


It’s time to share your knowledge with others! You probably know that there are countless venues to discuss breastfeeding, pumping and other parenting issues on the Web, Message boards, forums, user groups, online communities — these are all tools that bring mothers together, which is what being a Medela Mom Maven is all about.


Wherever you see conversations about breastfeeding, breast pumping, challenges facing working moms or parenting in general. Or where you see opportunities to start such a conversation and educate other moms. The possibilities are endless. Click here for a list of sites where breastfeeding is a frequent topic of conversation. If you’re looking for ways to meet other moms in your area mommy groups make an excellent starting point. Click here for a list of local groups in major cities across the country.

We also encourage you to engage other moms and moms-to-be in face-to-face discussions about breastfeeding. You may see an opportunity to bring up the subject at social outings, work, family gatherings, or during chance meetings.

Note especially that the Medela Mom Mavens are being asked to promote Medela bottles and teats, as Medela notes this specifically in their talking points for Mavens:

For mom and baby’s health, all Medela bottles, breastshields and kit components are made from polypropylene, a safe, durable Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free plastic. BPA is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic and there is ongoing debate on its potential harm to human health. For more on BPA, please visit http://www.medelabpafree.com.

This is another clear, deliberate, and blatant breach of the Code. Direct or indirect between a formula or bottle company’s PR people and mothers or mothers-to-be is explicitly prohibited by the WHO Code, article 5.5:

5.5 Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.

They have noticed that doing this without disclosure is illegal in some jurisdictions, however:


Yes, please. Medela believes its Mom Mavens should disclose their affiliation with Medela whenever discussing the benefits of breastfeeding or recommending a Medela product.

So when you introduce yourself to a person or group, or are talking to people that you know, please let them know that you are a mom who breastfed and used Medela products, and that Medela has asked you to help them educate other women on breastfeeding and/or Medela breastpumps.

Just how possible this sort of disclosure is going to be on networks like Twitter, and how enforceable it’s going to be in private conversations, is left as an exercise for the reader. And disclosure, of course, does not negate or mitigate the Code breach in any way.

Medela provides Mavens with a list of message boards to spam, including Babble, Babycenter, Babyzone, iVillage, Kellymom, Sheknows, Storknet, and Urban Baby.

Note that this behaviour is prohibited on at least some of the listed messageboards. Kaboose, for example, the Babyzone message board, bans “commercial and business related” posting. Babycenter forbids unauthorized advertising and promotional materials. Ivillage only allows forum participants to use its boards for personal, non-commercial use. Storknet’s user agreement disallows advertising and solicitation of all kinds.

And, of course, Medela’s social media marketing department will be closely monitoring the ensuing conversations:


Yes, please do! We’d like you to report on the information you share with others, whether it’s online or during face-to-face discussions. Click here to access our online reporting form, and you’ll be able to tell us how you’re educating other women about the benefits of breastfeeding. You may want to add this link to your favorites.

There’s a whole reporting webpage set up so that Mavens can report to base about where and how they’ve advocated for the Company: public message boards, forums, blogs, “email chains” and private mailing lists, and face to face conversations. Reporting Mavens are invited to share the details of these public and private conversations with the Company.

Just in case you’ve somehow managed to get the impression that this Medela Mom Mavens network is all about promoting breastfeeding – think again. Medela is not about promoting breastfeeding. Medela is about selling Stuff. Breastpumps, bottles, teats, and a variety of other Stuff. Their marketing is not about increasing breastfeeding rates and supporting women; it is about increasing the numbers of mothers buying bottles and accessories. Formula marketers have long known that the most brand-loyal mothers are ex-breastfeeding mothers; currently-breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women are the optimal target market for those selling bottle-feeding. The issues with saturation promotions of Stuff like bottles and teats is very well established, and I won’t be going over it again in this post/thread – check my previous posts and IBFAN links for the background.

Nestlé found out exactly how well received social media spam is during the #nestlefamily affair, which rejuvenated the boycott. PhDinParenting has a terrific series on that event – start here for more information, and here for the followup questions asked of Nestle, and the ways in which they showed their arses avoided them. Let’s see how well received Medela’s amateur PR people will be.

So next time you’re in a conversation about breastfeeding, public or private, and a fellow mum just happens to mention that she used Medela products and was very happy with them? Bear in mind that you may well be chatting with one of Medela’s spam team. And that if so, the conversation is going to be reported back to the Company.


Categories: media, parenting

Tags: , ,

22 replies

  1. Nestlé found out exactly how well received social media spam is during the #nestlefamily affair, which rejuvenated the boycott. PhDinParenting has a terrific series on that event – start here for more information. Let’s see how well received Medela’s amateur PR people will be.

    This. People really do not like being sideswiped by marketing.

  2. How frustrating. How annoying. Thank you for writing about this and bringing it to light.
    This type of spamming is also not allowed on the kellymom message boards. I’ll be giving them a heads up about potential spammers.

  3. Thank you for article lauredhel and the heads up Annie! It is pretty sad for me personally that I am being forced by a company (whose product I had a really good experience with) to review how their is “discussed” in a community I administrate. Now ALL recommendations of Medela products will be viewed with suspicion by our moderators and that is really a shame for our community members. The good thing is that there are many other options out there and we will have no trouble finding other brands to recommend.

  4. It’s a right pain, isn’t it Carol? And experience has shown that no amount of strictures saying that people should declare their interests actually leads to effective declarations – not to mention the fact that an endorsement _with_ a declaration is still a naked advertisement, not permitted on most message boards.
    For what it’s worth, Ameda is largely or completely Code compliant, and produces products of similar quality, according to high quality reviews by experienced people. I have no connection with Ameda at all, and have never so much as used their products.

  5. La Leche League Leaders are told to not use LLLL as initials/credentials after the name, as we’re not “qualified” to speak for the organization. LLLLs have gone through selection, education and training, believe and commit to a set of principles, yet we are not permitted to identify ourselves with the organization.
    You can imagine the Medela Mom Mavens will be oh so proud to use MMM after their names, as “credentials.” It won’t mean anything to anyone who knows anything about lactation, but it will appear to be worthwhile to the outside world.

  6. That’s terrible!
    It is obvious actually, that they are not bothered about breastfeeding rates, otherwise they would vet the ‘applicants’ thoroughly.
    I have done a 12 week training course compiled by the LLL to become a breastfeeding peer counsellor. Over my time on ivillage message boards I have seen some extremely dodgy (and occasionally, down right wrong) advice from other breastfeeding mums, usually those who have breastfed for just a few weeks and are going on their opinion or experience, or something they were told (wrongly!). The fact that they are giving these women the ‘green light’ to not only spam and promote Medela, but also potentially give out misinformation, with a title which implies knowledge, and a position of authority on the subject, is horrific.

  7. Terrible. I would have previously recommended Medela products because I did use them with my first baby, two years ago. But now I don’t think I can. Too bad, because they used to be the gold standard in pumps. But I can’t recommend a company with such terrible ethics. Very sad.

  8. I’d like to link to this in my blog soon…just to let you know. I am a big breastfeeding advocate. Thanks.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Natural Dishwasher Detergent =-.

  9. How totally sad. Like another person before said I have had good experience with the product and will be totally leery of sharing my “stories” for fear of being one of those mentioned spammers (which I am NOT). Amazing what the www has done to even the basic of communication between moms. Sad.

  10. Am I missing what the “Maven” gets? With Nestle Family, the bloggers got a trip and steak and stuff they delighted in touting. Is Medela giving “Mavens” sample products? Is this really as sad as a woman thinking the designation has value?
    .-= Jake Aryeh Marcus´s last blog ..“Tits in the Parliament”: Are Fines for Breastfeeding Harassment Always a Good Thing? =-.

  11. All right, I’ll wade in.
    I truly don’t see what’s wrong with this.
    Why is it a bad thing for a company that has people who swear by their product, to contact those people and say hey, if you use our product, talk to people about it? Every company does it (or should). Encouraging people to talk about their experiences with a product via word of mouth is a *good* thing.
    Also, I must call you out on one point you make. Where you say that “Medela Mom Mavens are being asked to promote Medela bottles and teats, as Medela notes this specifically in their talking points for Mavens” – nowhere in the snip you’ve pasted are teats mentioned. They refer to “all Medela bottles, breastshields and kit components”. The bottle is part of the pumping process. It collects the milk. If you need to pump your milk, you need to use a bottle. The breastshields and kit components are also part of the milk collection process. So, it’s really a stretch to say they’re promoting the “bottles and teats” when they refer to the “kit components”.
    However, if you truly want to go there – yes, if you pump, you have to give the baby milk in a bottle. Is the bottle truly the enemy here, when it’s the only way the baby’s going to get breastmilk? (Besides, when it comes right down to it, medela bottles and nipples suck. I use other bottles and nipples as they work far better. )
    I dunno, I think there are far bigger fish to fry than to go after Medela for daring to sell a bottle as part of a breast pump, or to think that people who use and appreciate their products and are encouraged to talk about them are “spammers”. Frankly I find that quite insulting. My pump saved my ass and kept my kid getting breastmilk, and I’ll gladly tell that to anyone who wants to know.

  12. zchamu: The WHO Code does not restrict the sale or use of feeding bottles in any way. I suggest you read the links provided.

  13. I disagree that a bottle is the only way to feed a baby expressed breastmilk. They will suck through straws, or are able to learn to sip from a cup at a very young age.

  14. @lauredhel – I have read the links. I still think there are far bigger fish to fry, which is my point. The entire phrasing of this post is disingenuous: classifying Medela as a bottle company first, THEN a breast pump company. They sell bottles as secondary to the pump, not the other way around. I can guarantee you that if it wasn’t for Medela and their pump and their bottles, my daughter would have been formula fed and I’d probably be in the loony bin. By demonizing Medela, you’re alienating the very people who are on your side – breastfeeding mothers.
    @mindy – I’m laughing at the thought of trying to feed my 3 day old exclusively through a straw or a cup. And if the babe will feed that way, surely these evil components should be banned through the WHO code too? 😉

  15. Straws and cups don’t mess with the sucking reflex like rubber or plastic teats do. That’s why the WHO code recommends using them.
    Ah, three day old babies, that takes me back. Fond memories, but no intention of actually going back.

  16. The WHO Code has nothing to do with the quality or availability of breast pumps, or the quality or availability of bottles, artificial nipples, or manufactured foods for babies. It has everything to do with how they are marketed to mothers. Medela actively markets their bottles and nipples in an unethical way directly to the public. It’s the marketing of the products that’s the problem, not the products themselves. TheWHO Code prohibits direct marketing of anything that substitutes for direct breastfeeding. That means no advertising in baby magazines and TV, no pictures of babies with the products, no claims that they are “most like breastfeeding”, no spamming by “mothercraft nurses” in hospitals or chat lists. These Mavens are the equivalent of formula reps, but worse, because they’re contacting the mothers directly instead of peddling their wares through health care workers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. They actively promote breastmilk as a product to be extracted with their pumps and fed with their bottles, not breastfeeding as a process. You can purchase all of their products you want to use, but they can’t tell you that your life will be better because you use them. Nobody denies that working moms and those with anatomical challenges have a use for their products. It’s quite another thing to convince every mother that she needs to buy a pump if she’s breastfeeding. It’s just like the breastfeeding literature from the formula companies that makes you think that it’s impossible to exclusively breastfeed. What if you have to work or want to go out without your baby? Certainly you’ll need to give formula then so you’ll want to give the one closest to your breastmilk, right? And if you need to pump, you’ll certainly want the pump that most closely mimicks breastfeeding and have someone feed your precious breastmilk with a bottle and nipple that most closely matches your breast, right? That’s marketing and it works. That’s why Medela has thumbed their nose at the WHO Code and the lactation community’s near boycott–profit.

  17. @lauredhel – Lurking LactNet has given me confidence that the Hygeia breastpump is another good choice without the WHO code issues so I feel pretty good recommending them as well.
    As a community moderator/administrator I view what Medela is trying to do as stealth advertising. They are attempting to get around my community’s advertising restrictions by hiding behind breastfeeding moms. Our members CANNOT disclose their affiliation as Medela suggests they do and remain members of our community. We’ll pull their posts as advertising and their accounts will be suspended. So instead, the smart members who know that disclosing will get them in major trouble are going to post without disclosing which makes ALL conversation about Medela products suspect. That is a serious shame.
    For me personally these are serious (aka big) issues.
    Stealth advertising/Social marketing is a pretty sticky ethical thicket and pretty darned important. It’s so important that the FTC in the US has addressed the EXACT behavior Medela is encouraging of their MMMs on the part of bloggers. So far the FTC hasn’t addressed this within internet communities but I have a feeling that if we wait long enough the FTC will address programs like Medela’s.
    At the risk of repeating Linda, Medela’s MMMs violate the WHO Code, articles 5.1 (There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code) and 5.5, (Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.). The Code does not address the manufacture or sale of these products. It addresses the MARKETING of the products.
    While there may be other fish to fry this particular fish *IS* a big deal for some of us within the breastfeeding support community. It impacts me and a community that I moderate directly and so I’ll be using my frying pan on Medela and their Mom Mavens.
    @zchamu – 3-day old babies who are not breastfeeding but are receiving expressed breastmilk are often syringe fed, finger fed, fed with an SNS, etc. There are a multitude of methods of feeding expressed breastmilk and some are more appropriate to newborns than others. The bottle is one of many options.
    With this particular topic I see a lot of people (I’m reading about this in a lot of different places) making the mistaken assumption that it’s either breastfeeding at the breast or giving expressed breastmilk with a bottle. Then when other (sometimes better) methods are shared then the false dichotomy shifts to “If you don’t embrace bottle feeding you think it’s evil”, “you hate working mothers”, “you are advocating some unattainable form of breastfeeding and anyone who diverges from it is a failure” or some other equally untrue meme.
    The ironic thing for me is that I had a really good experience with a PIS back when my oldest was nursing and I’ll never again recommend this company because their marketing choices are, in my opinion, extremely sleazy (even if EVERYONE else is doin’ it too).

  18. I agree with zchamu. Many mothers and mothers-to-be do not have the luxury to breast feed exclusively without a pump and components. Without advertising, many women (especially in the U.S.) would not be exposed to the idea that feeding breast milk to their baby is a viable, and convenient option. Many of us only get 6 weeks unpaid vacation after the birth, and then have to return promptly to work. Without breast pumping systems like these, breast milk would NOT be an option. Many women in the U.S. do not breast feed due to the pro-formula culture here (breastfeeding is looked down on), in addition to the shear lack of knowledge of products like these. Not to offend anyone, but many of the responses on this site (and others that I have read), come from a very naive, elitist point of view. Try to put yourself in others’ shoes. Not everyone is educated about breast feeding, nor able to have their baby with them at all times during the day. Some of us have to work! And many of us aren’t aware that breast milk is the healthiest form of food to feed your growing baby. Others have been brainwashed that feeding your baby formula is more natural than breastfeeding. And still others are not even aware that these systems are available to make the process convenient, especially when we have to go back to work. Or the issue is a combination of all of the above. Either way, I think it’s a good thing that Medela is advertising. Hopefully more mothers will begin to feed their baby breast milk. Better Medela than Nestle (Carnation Good Start), MeadJohnson (Enfamil), or Similac.
    P.S. I’ve worked as a Maternity/Neonatal nurse in the hospital, and let me tell you: Representatives from formula companies are right there influencing nurses, and health care providers with promotional and advertising materials. I noticed a trend: the product that was promoted the most to patients seemed to have a direct connection to the amount of time the rep spent with the nurses. Breast feeding was not promoted in the same way, and seemed to be discouraged, as it was easier to just give a bottle (to quantify amount of feedings, and expedite the passing of meconium). The hospital did use lactation consultants (when they were available, and to the few mothers who dared to be interested), but I think that due to the high patient load, some nurses tended to become impatient if the mother and child had problems with latching, etc. In addition, each mom left the hospital with a welcome pack (more advertising materials for the company), which included, you guessed it: baby formula. Believe me when I say, I’d rather have Medela there promoting their products and the advantages of breast milk. I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “ABC formula has DHA and RHA, which is good for the baby’s brain and eye development….blah, blah, blah” Now, that’s what I call sickening. I think that that is what zchamu meant by, “there are bigger fish to fry.”

  19. stephanieRN: I’m really not in the mood for a ‘splainer today.
    Whatever you assume my experience is of lactation and of behind-the-scenes at healthcare facilities; you’re wrong.

  20. Lauredhel,
    While I am aware that this is your article, I wasn’t directing my comment to you per se. In addition, I wasn’t assuming anything about “your” experience and/or background. The purpose of my comment was to show that I was simply agreeing with zchamu, and responding to others’ martyr-like responses. However, I do think it is interesting that you would assume that I was talking to you, or that I would be sitting around thinking about your background. I understand that there will be people out there who will report controversy, and I welcome it. But try not to be so one-sided, or feign omniscience. There are two sides to every story. Hopefully others will be able to see that, and make the choice for themselves.

  21. Without advertising, many women (especially in the U.S.) would not be exposed to the idea that feeding breast milk to their baby is a viable, and convenient option.

    You could ask yourself why US women don’t have access to education re breastfeeding and what formula companies might have to do with that. Who has told these women that breast isn’t best?


  1. Information, advertising, spam: Medela crosses the line | PhD in Parenting
%d bloggers like this: