Monday, October 3, 2011

How the Breastfeeding Industry is destroying Breastfeeding.

Arie Brentnall-Compton

I've spend 10 years (!!) as a loud, active protector of breastfeeding. I've worked within the breastfeeding community, as an LC, been the first person to connect babywearing & breastfeeding as public health issues, a writer & so much more. I've attended countless conferences, tradeshows, speakers' events & taught at just as many. I've been observing an unnerving trend and a concept that James Akre introduced to me over 4 years ago has crystalised of late.

A very large, capital I Industry has built up around "breastfeeding". What started as a small group of committed, WHO Code supporting companies has morphed into thousands of companies marketing "feeding products". Previously Code compliant companies have shifted their focus to "Feeding", offering little or no breastfeeding imagery, or products directly known to interfere with the success of breastfeeding. By creating an industry around the ostensible support of nursing mothers, companies have changed the culture around breastfeeding. The average new mother today is inundated with blog posts, ads, product samples and more more for things like breastfeeding cookies, bracelets, apps, creams, teas, menu plans, covers, hot/cold packs and so much more.

It's an individual's choice to purchase & use what they'd like, make no mistake. The sum total of the entire industry and it's rapid growth over the past few years has accelerated to give the impression to today's first time mother that breastfeeding is expensive, time consuming, requires a lot of paraphernalia & often doesn't work the way they'd planned. It's important to know that the vast majority of these products simply didn't exist even a few years ago. It's also important to note the changes:

-Lansinoh, a beloved product for nursing mothers long endorsed by La Leche League, now sells bottles & other "feeding accessories" in violation of the WHO Code.
-Boppy, one of the first commercial brands of nursing pillow, have rebranded as feeding pillows. There is currently not a single image of breastfeeding on their site or in their marketing.
-Medela, once a Code compliant supplier of pumps & accessories, is now marketing bottles & low quality pumps to mothers.
-Generically, many larger brands of nursing covers (a non-existent product category until about 10 years ago), have shifted their marketing from being a breastfeeding aid (which is debatable) to providing a cover while pumping, bottlefeeding, or simply holding a sleeping baby. The imagery infrequently shows women actually nursing anymore.

I spent upwards of 7 years as a nursing mother. I used a variety of products to make our time nursing a little bit easier, mainly bras & other nursing clothing. There isn't anything at all wrong with using & appreciating the often innovative products designed to serve us during our nursing careers. Indeed (full disclosure), I owned a retail store for 4 years that focused partially on breastfeeding items, although we never sold items we knew interfered with the normalisation of nursing. I also do work as a lactation consultant & breastfeeding educator, with the longterm goal of teaching my way out of a job.

My experiences tell me that all the growth we are seeing does not equate to progress. It appears that breastfeeding initiation/duration rates in many areas are actually on a downward trend. The industry, as a whole, is a death knell for normal breastfeeding.

It's hard for women who have yet to develop a successful nursing relationship to sort out the useful from the useless, the harmless from the harmful. Part of the problem with the growth in items available has been, as I've said, the overall cultural change. While covering with a blanket used to be a choice for women who felt modest or private, mom's groups now regularly have women aplologise to other attendees for having forgotten their nursing cover. When a mother worried about her supply out loud a few years ago, a La Leche League Leader may have helpfully made some suggestions for evaluating if her supply was in fact dropping (it's usually not) & suggested she nurse the baby more to increase the production. That same mother expressing concern on social media today is likely to be sent to purchase a bag of lactation cookies marketed with dubious medical claims. Other products prey on the same fears: bracelets, charms & apps imply you may not remember to nurse on the "correct" side; cookies, teas, supplements imply your supply may be inadequate without them. Nursing covers, hiders, hats & more suggest it's more appropriate to nurse covered with a commercial product.

I want to reiterate that while there will be individuals who found benefit from each of these products, it's not looking like the longterm result of their availability will be a societal increase in breastfeeding initiation or duration. Of perhaps more concern is how quietly some of the lactation industry's biggest players have simply removed the breast from the feeding entirely.

37 comments:

  1. I think you are really on to something here. Thank you for posting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent post! I have noticed the marketing with BOPPY pillows as well and have been severely disappointed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree. I had a bracelet while in the hospital but it comes naturally now. The bras yes clothes yes and use a cream in the hospital. I also pump but its for school only. But I was overwhelmed by all the things you mentioned here. I have a 6 and a half month old

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've observed the same trend and BRAVO for writing about it so eloquently! Signed 10 year LLLL Leader, IBCLC and mom of 3 breastfed kids.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Damn. Well said. As a mom of 5 who's been breastfeeding (this round) for almost 9 year solidly, I've been a huge advocate of "less is more". I refuse to have a crib, never had a change table, usually use my stroller for carrying school bags and groceries, and preferred manual expressing over using a pump..... I guess I've been out of the loop on all of this. I've noticed all the ads but never really thought of it this way. Well done.

    ReplyDelete
  6. There is information about breastfeeding on the Boppy site, but it's not very obvious to find. http://www.boppy.com/breastfeeding/

    ReplyDelete
  7. Agreed. There is way too much "stuff" out there. Currently nursing my third and have never used a nursing cover. They weren't common when I nursed my first seven years ago. If I needed privacy I put her in a sling. My five month old baby has never been covered while
    nursing and most likely never will be. I've never used any of that other stuff you mention either. As for all that other stuff, it's useless and it's a cash grab. Companies will make money wherever they can sadly.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm just reposted this article out on my blog "Informed Parenting"- http://iinformedparenting.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-breastfeeding-industry-is.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. As a new BF mom (of an 8.5 month old), yep...all of the products out there are overwhelming and it's hard not to think "I need this." I tried to just listen to the baby and my own instincts.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Excellent post. When I see something I think I need I usually ask myself if it was needed 200 years ago. If not, why do I need it now? Sometimes it's something to make life a little easier, like the hot/cold pads that fit in your bra. Those are mighty convenient. Other times it's a bracelet or an app. I used an app for a day, it was too hard for me to remember to turn the timer on or off. It stressed me out. I never remember to switch the bracelet either. Now if I'm unsure which side to nurse from, I just feel my boobs and go with the firmer side, like they did back in the olden days.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Amen! It's overwhelming to wade through all the STUFF when all you really need is your baby, your breasts, and supportive friends!

    ReplyDelete
  13. The formula industry is very powerful, it seems. I wouldn't be surprised if there is behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on with those companies listed.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I agree - rarely is a bunch of gear needed for nursing. However, when moms do need things like nipple creams or pumps, I always advise purchasing them from responsible companies (i.e. those not violating the WHO code and using SAFE ingredients.) I'm a pumping mom, and many products have made pumping easier on me (like a handsfree bra, milk storage bags, teas for when my supply takes a hit around the time of my period, etc.) But not every mom needs these things, and I try to make sure they know that. But it's sometimes hard to advocate for responsible products for those who NEED them without being seen as though you're pushing them on women who don't. It's a fine line.

    ReplyDelete
  15. http://www.boppy.com/breastfeeding/

    Found it! Although I think most of it has become a huge amount of politically-correct BS.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This is a good post. As a baby nurse I notice we have many moms come in armed to the hilt with products and information to help with breastfeeding. This is good, but it also seems like sometimes when things don't go "the way they read" they are convinced something is wrong and they "can't" breastfeed and give up.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I think it's good that mothers who will have to use bottles if their babies are to have breast milk while they are at work are getting more support for that, but it does seem like the marketing is pushing pumping and all no matter what. I am blessed to be with my babies full-time, and with my first I got a good amount of "stuff" that I didn't really use. It CAN all have a place, but with #2 I had nursing bra, pads, and a cloth diaper to catch the leaks. Added to a nursing friendly wardrobe, that's the necessary equipment for straight breastfeeding. It's disturbing that the breastfeeding imagery, wording, and expectation are being taken out of the marketing FOR breastfeeding products.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Amen! This isn't new in the last 4 years either, but I can see that it's getting worse. Baby showers are out of control. I nursed my first baby in 1990 and am still nursing his 2yo littlest brother right now! Spent 13 yrs as a LLL Leader....

    ReplyDelete
  19. What a great post! The marketing is getting crazier and crazier, and I love how formula companies still hand out "breastfeeding friendly" backpacks in hospitals. I'd missed all of that with having my first child in a birth center. As for forgetting which side to nurse on, I solved that by having twins. That way I nursed on both sides each time!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have noticed within the blogging world how many of the product give-aways are often breastfeeding ‘aids’, usually being some sort of nursing cover or something related and it bothers me. I am concerned about how women , especially new mothers but not limited to, may come to believe that they have to concern themselves with discretion when breastfeeding or feel that they need all those tools in order to be successful in their nursing relationships. It creates all sorts of unnecessary anxiety around breastfeeding when you are bombarded with all these products that give the impression that motherhood is complicated and infants are high maintenance when they’re really not. The initiation into motherhood is overwhelming as it is without all the marketed parenting doodads claiming that they’re necessary. That’s why I am so grateful for those few honest companies who refuse to lower their standards and carry crap products that are detrimental to women and their babies just to turn a profit.

    ReplyDelete
  21. So I have been standing back and "admiring" the media out-cry about the usual-suspect blog posts here and there that make any kind of case of breastfeeding. People honestly don't believe that formula companies could possibly be so evil (eye roll). It makes sense that our initiation rates and 6 month/12 month rates have plummeted. I was talking to a friend about it a few weeks ago, about how fashionable some of our peers were making nursing covers, Tommy Tippy (sp?) bottles, special nursing shirts and bras (which cost a friggin mint!!), etc. It's becoming just as prohibitively expensive to nurse a baby! Not only that, but the lactivist movement is stunted as soon as a case for mom-guilt gets thrown in there. So now we're blubbering, emotional, over-spent moms with a complex, an empty wallet, and no gusto to raise our voices.

    A proudly (for the most part) non-nursing bra, momma of 3 booby kids... working to advocate that moms know the answer, need to trust their intuition, and leave MONEY and consumerism out of the picture.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Relying on gadgets disempowers you.

    It's not just the waste of money. While they commercialise breastfeeding, they control it. They have changed the image of breastfeeding to be about the products instead of the mother and baby.

    In this society, image is everything and protest is suspect.

    This is not a breastfeeding blog

    ReplyDelete
  23. One of the many new slogans a few years ago promoted by certain breastfeeding advocates and breastfeeding organizations was that breastfeeding is not free. It is a public relation slogan that totally confuses and damages the promotion of breastfeeding. This slogan when directed at those in our culture who are poor or under-educated has created this belief that it takes gadgets/money to breastfeed. The social marketing of breastfeeding is self-destructive, when it is designed by people who either do not understand the differences in language used by different economic/cultural groups or who have an economic investment to protect.

    ReplyDelete
  24. So can someone fill in a newbie, which companies are the SAFE and WHO complaint ones? Who do you trust?

    ReplyDelete
  25. In my experience as a breastfeeding mom of two (4yo & 9 mo) the most essential thing for a nursing mother is free but sadly, not broadly available: support from other nursing moms. A community of knowledgeable & caring women with children at various stages of life can provide information about what to expect, what is normal, what to do when trouble arises... plus can stave off the isolation one feels as life gets turned on its head with the arrival of an infant! "Supplies" can be helpful, but when marketing interferes with our view of breastfeeding as nothing more or less than normal, it makes me so sad.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I help to administer a breastfeeding support group, and we see a real problem with gadgets - mamas lubing up with a cream before nursing tjeir newborns (then baby can't get a good latch and they wonder why), new SAHMs who think they need to be pumping every day to build a weeklong freezer stash when their milk supplies aren't regulated yet (actually had a pregnant 1st-time mom roll her eyes at me when I said she didn't need a double electric pump!), and, perhaps worst of all, many new moms using nipple shields while their babies are learning to latch...and then having a terrible time, months later, trying to wean off the shield. They are terrified of low supply and will buy cookies, teas and fenugreek if they're "feeling low," and they don't want to hear that a) there's probably no problem, b) if there is, nursing more is almost certainly the answer, and c) you have to drink tea/eat cookies/take herbs for more than a couple days for them to work. And, fundamentally, there's this idea that pumping and giving the baby a bottle is somehow easier, the lazy-day option. That doesn't even make sense (but it sure allows bottle & pump makers to sell a lot more)! The tough thing is that some (not all!) of these things are genuinely helpful, in some situations, so it's hard to say "no, you don't need that."

    ReplyDelete
  27. An interesting debate. One must remember that we live in age of hyper-consumerism and information overload. People have come to expect that they will be inundated with marketing material for anything and everything. The newest generation poised to enter parent-hood, the Millenials, are accustomed to having it delivered to them rapidly and efficiently. No marketing guru in any industry wants to be left behind. Though we might wish it to be so, why would we think that the realm of infant feeding would be immune to effects of capitalism and consumer-driven industry?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Very interesting piece -- I'd love to reblog it and comment on the Milk for Thought blog. I really enjoy the comments from readers, too. MayasGold makes a great point -- new moms need friendship, love and support to breastfeed successfully! I also appreciate Ally's comment -- new moms are overwhelmed with info and products being recommended to them, and they don't always need all that. It's sensory overload, and it's sometimes keeping from nursing easily. Marketing from various companies can be very sneaky, as we've seen many times before. Instead of overloading themselves with products and gadgets, moms can remember that the number one thing she needs to feed her baby is free, always the right temperature, doesn't require a bag of supplies, and is readily available -- breastmilk!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Excellent post! You articulated what I have felt while watching the growing emergence of such products and the unfortunate evolution of some key players in the industry who should know better... I am shocked that parents would apologize for forgetting the cover-up...

    ReplyDelete
  30. Great post. The only thing I had for breastfeeding was a hand me down boppy pillow and time with my baby girl.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Almost every area of parenting has been elevated to a commercial level. This includes cloth diapering, baby wearing, breastfeeding, education etc. One only has to look at the number of websites and stores both online and brick and mortar dedicated to these products to see it. I myself am a retailer specializing in products for these purposes.

    I agree that the more products we introduce as necessary the more confusing it gets for parents especially Mothers. I see both the customers who embrace all the products on the market and find my selection perhaps too small and then others who think some of what I sell is not necessary at all. They are both right.

    What is uncommon and most difficult to combine is a retail business and a community resource for mother to mother support and unbiased information, which is what my business is.

    I am on Facebook and constantly see people making judgements about what is necessary or not for others based on "their" opinions. These are also some of the people that put down a "nursing burka" (aka nursing cover) but justify throwing away money at "collecting" expensive baby carriers or stalking baby steals for a killer deal on something "they" determine is necessary. The people that obsess over a baby carrier or drool over an overpriced auctioned diaper are as confusing to me as anyone who has to have all the gadgets in any respect.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Honestly, I still nurse my now 27 month old son and it has been a godsend to have some supportive products for home and in public. I love my nursing tops and have worn them for over two years and even to bed. I wear Milker which is a well known company from Denmark. Milk Mommy Milk is the only distributor and only carries a select few of their organic line. http://www.milkmommymilk.com/Milker_bymfg_6-0-1.html I personally hate to have my breast exposed and to have my tummy exposed and this empire waist opening allowed me to feel confident and comfortable... not to mention I like the organic fabric. I also could not live without my wrap which allowed me to nurse around the house and nurse in public. I will admit that I did have a My Breast Friend pillow which at that newborn first half year did me wonders because of the support and mobility it gave me (before I discovered wraps). I still use the wrap since it is good until 45 pounds. Just wanted to share my experience. I think that although there may be a saturation of products out there, I think that when it does not overwhelm the mother and is not put as a "must have" for nursing mothers - there is a place for it.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Katy I agree, there is a place for some products for some people. The problem isn't necessarily the products.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Please keep updating this blog, it's been too long! :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. if you refuse to just accept that, a breast lift in delhi, will reverse the looks of aging. For additional data, visit http://www.skindelhi.com/breast_implant_enlargement.html

    ReplyDelete