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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 06-Mar-18 10:26:51

Guest post: “Formula milk companies are getting in the way of parents’ decisions”

Mumsnet doesn’t take any advertising for any formula milk, nor any advertising from Nestle or Nes-branded companies - Save the Children’s latest report highlights just how important and, sadly, overdue better regulation is

Kirsty McNeill

Save the Children

Posted on: Tue 06-Mar-18 10:26:51

(77 comments )

Lead photo

We found that even where mums want to breastfeed they face pressure to choose formula.

#breastisbest, #fedisbest? Society seems intent on pitching mothers against each other, but there’s no need to take a side. Whether you breastfeed, bottle-feed, or mix-feed we know parents are simply doing their best. Working for Save the Children I see that first-hand from parents all over the world. Yet when it comes to feeding your baby, formula milk companies are getting in the way of parents’ decisions. They’re putting babies at risk by putting their profits first.

Last week Save the Children published Don’t Push It, revealing the scale of the formula milk industry’s aggressive marketing and calling on them to clean up their act. Six companies spend the equivalent of £36 on marketing for each baby born worldwide - amounting to £5 billion every year. Their marketing routinely violates a World Health Organisation code set up to stop aggressive marketing to new mums. Parents are bombarded with advertisements including false health claims and social media promotions, while doctors report receiving gifts and incentives to promote infant formula.

Why does this matter?

An estimated 823,000 child deaths would be prevented in low and middle-income countries each year if almost all babies were breastfed. That’s nearly one in seven of all deaths of children under the age of five, globally.

So pervasive is the belief that artificial breast -milk substitutes are better than the real thing in Myanmar's healthcare system, that La Min even recalls doctors shouting at her when she decided to switch to breastfeeding instead.


This is because breast milk is a baby’s first immunisation. It offers the antibodies a baby needs to survive lethal diseases like pneumonia, which kills more children under five than any other disease.

In situations where clean water isn’t available, mixing formula with dirty water can be dangerous and life-threatening. And when parents can’t afford enough product and have to dilute it, or don’t have access to safe preparation instructions, babies’ lives are also at risk.

What about mums who can’t breastfeed?

Our report does not deny that formula milk has a positive role to play in the right conditions. There is a recognised medical need for some infants to be formula-fed, and for several reasons it is a decision made by parents around the world.

We found that even where mums want to breastfeed they face pressure to choose formula. In Yangon, Myanmar we met La Min and her daughter San Sundari. She told us that she thought it wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t breastfeed, because she could afford to buy formula. She made this decision after being told by the nurse that helped deliver her daughter that it would improve her baby’s IQ. So pervasive is the belief that artificial breast milk substitutes are better than the real thing in Myanmar’s healthcare system, that La Min even recalls doctors shouting at her when she decided to switch to breastfeeding instead.

What needs to change?

The time has come for companies to enter a race to the top to become the most ethical formula company, putting mothers’ and babies’ health as their priority and leading the way for others to follow suit.

We’re calling on:
- companies to publicly commit to upholding the code and agree to meet targets set to achieve full compliance
- investors of formula companies to consider their ethical investment policies and urge their formula companies to align with them
- governments to adopt the code into legislation, as the evidence is clear that legislation is the strongest motivator for these industry giants to play fair

All involved in this industry must put babies before profit.

Hannah Greer, a Campaigner from Save the Children's International Development department will be responding to questions and comments on this post later this week.

Photo credit: Chloe White/Save the Children

By Kirsty McNeill

Twitter: @savechildrenuk

HotCrossBunFight Tue 06-Mar-18 10:35:10

Sadly Mumsnet as a whole does not agree that "whether you breast feed, bottle-feed or mix-feed (We know) parents are simply doing their best". I've seen certain posters on here continue to berate mothers that bottle feeding can't possibly have been the best for her baby despite ant negative effects breast feeding was having on the mother's health.
In the developing world where formula cannot be afforded or where keeping bottles sterile may be difficult breast feeding is obviously very important and it is shameful how companies push formula feeding there but in the UK it's really not such a bad option. It seems that in all of your attempts to encourage breastfeeding you've simply ostracized bottle feeding mothers who ARE doing their best.

newtlover Tue 06-Mar-18 12:04:15

But Save the Children are talking only about bf/ff in the majority world!
Don't undermine their campaign with irrelavance. If you feel so fragile about your feeding decisions that you can't appreciate the danger of ff where there is no clean water, electricity or ready money to buy formula, you need to have a look at yourself.
What do Save the Children think we can do here in the UK about this issue?

hereyougosuckmyassforensics Tue 06-Mar-18 13:31:03

Here in the U.K. I felt more pressured to breastfeed. I haven't encountered any pushiness from formula companies and in fact the rules here enrage me. I have twins, so therefore spend an absolute shitload of money on formula, yet we are not able to have any "offers" in shops or accrue shop loyalty points. It's almost as if I'm being punished financially for choosing not to breastfeed.

Also, the post states £36 - surely there ought to be more zeros after that?

SmashedMug Tue 06-Mar-18 13:48:51

I think this will be hard going to get people in the UK on board with this beyond a bit of sympathy because women here are ridiculously pressured to breastfeed instead. The formula companies comply here with regards to marketing. I'm a bit boggled at this guest post because what influence do I have on governments abroad and their policies? None.

Choccywoccyhooha Tue 06-Mar-18 15:17:37

Kirsty is simply raising awareness of the work Save the Children is doing with this. The statistics are shocking and having lived and worked in SE Asia I have seen firsthand just how few women breastfeed because they believe that their milk is inferior to manufactured milk. 823000 avoidable child deaths is appalling, surely MNers don't think that we should just ignore that figure and carry on with our lives, because some people feel that they were pressured to breastfeed? The two things are separate issues.

Asian aside though,I do find it strange though that with all those who claim that they were pressurised to breastfeed, we still have such terrible breastfeeding rates here in the UK. Maybe the pressure isn't ready as pressing as it is perceived. And certainly not on the same level that women in developing countries are pressured by formula companies.

I formula fed two of my children from birth. I didn't feel penalised because there were no promotions on infant milk. No one has a right to money off offers. Plus it was my choice not to breastfeed or express, I knew the cost beforehand.

43percentburnt Tue 06-Mar-18 15:24:55

Formula companies may comply however brands are on display in maternity wards. Surely this is advertising?

Being told by hcps which brands are popular is advertising. Follow on milk adverts should be stopped. We all know formula is available and where we can buy it, surely no need to advertise.

And pressure to give formula as it's more convenient for hcps still occurs in the UK.

I had to fight to breastfeed my twins in the UK. Despite being experienced and having milk.

newtlover Tue 06-Mar-18 17:38:29

Brands should not be on display in UK hospitals
But this is NOT THE POINT
Save the Children are talking about babies dying in countries where ff is dangerous. Posters need to think beyond their own experiences.
And I agree that the 'pressure to breastfeed' cannot really be so bad, since actually very few women in the UK actually bf beyond the first few weeks. But that's by the by really.

newtlover Tue 06-Mar-18 17:42:59

823,000 deaths a year
But never mind, let's moan because we can't get Nectar points or BOGOF on formula at Sainsbo's.

WineGummyBear Tue 06-Mar-18 20:03:00

So many people believe Nestle (and others) crimes in the developing world are historical. Hell yes we should be talking about what these companies are doing.

823,000 preventable child deaths a year? How can that be unimportant to anyone?

SharronNeedles Tue 06-Mar-18 20:22:47

My son was formula fed after birth without any consent from me.
He was whisked off to SCBU and by the time I had finished being stitched up they had already given him his first feed via a tube and used formula despite me producing milk. At no point did anyone in that hospital approach me and ask what I was choosing to do.
Fortunately I refused to let this stop me. I expressed milk and worked very hard to get him to latch. He was tube fed for the first month but it was at my insistence that he have my milk. I was told so many times that I didn't need to breastfeed and how wonderful formula was. I successfully fed until he was 11 months and he not only caught up (he was 2 months prem) in size, he surpassed and thrived.

In my experience, I was expected to fail at breastfeeding, or expected to not want to feed. There was no support it guidance until I insisted.

AHedgehogCanNeverBeBuggered Tue 06-Mar-18 20:42:06

*823,000 deaths a year
But never mind, let's moan because we can't get Nectar points or BOGOF on formula at Sainsbo's.*

^ this.

MNetters are so bloody touchy about feeding choices. Deciding not to BF does not make you a bad parent, but surely it's clear to everyone that in poorer countries without clean water BF is not just beneficial, it's life-saving.

EgremontRusset Tue 06-Mar-18 20:54:22

I’ve been reading news coverage of this. It’s awful. I hadn’t realised it still went on.
So what consumer choices can I make without stopping buying formula (my 10mo has formula)? Which are the least unethical brands?

Littleoakhorn Tue 06-Mar-18 21:03:03

I’d like to know which brands in Europe and the uk are the most ethical around the world. I don’t want to give my money to companies pushing dangerous feeding practices on mothers and babies in poor countries. 823,000 avoidable deaths per year is disgusting and they deserve a boycott.

Smokenbubbles Tue 06-Mar-18 21:18:58

Bottle feeding also has a very bad affect on the poor dairy cows milked to death for their baby's milk who get separated at birth. It's a really terrible industry and I think it's a terrible thing not to try to breastfeed #breastisbest - milk is species specific. All milk is breastmilk to the specific species it is from.

Lemongingertea80 Tue 06-Mar-18 21:40:45

I felt no pressure from formula companies to use formula as I was not interested at all in feeding my new babies with plastic devices or processed food.

However I did receive a lot of pressure from nurses in hospital to use formula and to teach my babies to use bottles. This was on the scbu ward as both my babies spent several weeks there. Despite expressing milk for my babies, nurses would feed them formula on the night shift when I was not there! My expressed milk sat unused in the fridge. It was so demoralising.

I do wonder if the companies target health professionals as in my experience this has been the only place in which bottle feeding has been presented to me as an option. It is not part of my culture or my social group.

I am in the UK.

newtlover Tue 06-Mar-18 22:39:16

the companies absolutely do target professionals, run study days etc

I think if you are buying formula in this country you could read the report Save the Children produced, they mention several manufacturers, if one of them makes the brand you use (it may not be easy to work that out) write to them and ask if they will accept the challenge StC are making. Say that you are considering changing brand for ethical reasons.
I'm afraid I have no idea which is the 'most ethical' brand. You could ask Baby Milk Action

Queenofthedrivensnow Tue 06-Mar-18 22:41:33

I have boycotted nestle for 30 years due to their infanticide. I have been brought up that way and attended a nestle free school - some people have diligently given a shit about babies in developing countries for a very long time.

Buying formula in this country fuels unethical
Marketing in other countries. So does buying a kit kat.

Boo fucking hoo you can't get nectar points. Really my heart bleeds for you.

But it's ok. Mothers in Myanmar or wherever. They don't cry when their babies die from gastric diseases. They don't feel a thing.

Queenofthedrivensnow Tue 06-Mar-18 22:43:08

Everyone should get a copy of 'the politics of Breastfeeding' in the sodding bounty pack.

AssassinatedBeauty Tue 06-Mar-18 22:43:58

The point here is surely that Save the Children are asking UK consumers of formula products to put pressure on the companies that they buy from, to abide by these rules. You could contact them to ask if they will publicly pledge to do so, and point out that they will lose your custom to a more ethical brand if they don't. Most babies in the UK are formula fed, either partially or fully, so that's a lot of customers and money that could be put behind this issue, if UK consumers chose to consider it as important.

SellMySoulForSomeSleep Tue 06-Mar-18 23:00:46

Egremountrusset I'm not sure on its ethical credentials but https://www.kendamil.com is a British formula which I will be using when I finish breastfeeding.

RemainOptimistic Wed 07-Mar-18 02:29:23

Think the title of the article needs to be updated to reflect the fact it's about developing countries.

"823,000 babies around the world die from formula feeding every year" that would do it.

I'm shocked as thought this didn't happen anymore. How awful.

A concise call to action(s) is missing from the article. What are we supposed to do to help?

- donate to StC?
- write to a formula manufacturer?
- sign a petition?
- anything else?

hereyougosuckmyassforensics Wed 07-Mar-18 05:47:19

You know what, I'm a skint mum to twins so yes it would be nice if formula was more affordable for me. Fuck me right? Get off your high horses.

Fishinthesink Wed 07-Mar-18 07:42:47

Forensics one of the reasons it's so expensive is the huge marketing budget. It should be affordable to people who need it- I think there is a strong argument for a 'national milk'- plain packaging, sold at near cost. Formula milk is very tightly controlled content wise, despite what the advertising says, so there's actually no need for multiple brands.

There was a fairly recent thread in infant feeding on the most ethical companies- you can look at how many times they violate the code via baby milk action. I think HIPP came out as one of the best and possibly the aldi formula.

newtlover Wed 07-Mar-18 08:09:32

absolutely, Fishinthesink- or even, put it on prescription. All formula is supposed to be strictly regulated anyway wrt it's content, there shouldn't be any big differences between brands (in the uk)

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