24 March 2006

Bottles muscle in on breasts

Industrialisation and marketing strategies by the breast milk substitute industry are just some of the factors which have encouraged women to swop the breast for the bottle.

Industrialisation, migration and marketing strategies by the breast milk substitute industry are just some of the factors which have encouraged women to swop the breast for the bottle.

According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, economic forces, from the industrial revolution to the newer service economy, encouraged families to migrate in search of jobs. Because of this, the ties with traditional and community support for breastfeeding weakened. As women started working, it was more difficult for women to be with their children.

This created an ideal market for breastmilk substitutes. Promotion of breastmilk substitutes reached the majority of families in the 20th century. Manufactured foods were promoted as being more convenient and “scientific”, providing complete nutrition and reflecting a higher social status.

Aggressive marketing created doubts among mothers about the quality of their breastmilk, the growth of their baby and their ability to care for their children.

Self-doubt in turn led to early weaning from breastfeeding and the often-disastrous consequences for the baby of malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and sometimes death.

In 1981 the World Health Assembly, backed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, approved the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The aim was to encourage breastfeeding and to regulate marketing practices used to promote artificial feeding products.

What does the code say?
The code includes ten provisions:

  • No advertising of breastmilk substitutes
  • No free samples to mothers
  • No promotion of products in health care facilities, including no free or low-cost formula
  • No company representatives to contact mothers
  • No gifts or personal samples to health workers. Health workers should never pass products on to mothers
  • No words or pictures idealising artificial feeding, including pictures of infants, on the labels
  • Information to health workers must be scientific and factual
  • All information on artificial infant feeding must explain the benefits and superiority of breastfeeding, and the costs and hazards associated with artificial feeding
  • Unsuitable products, such as sweetened condensed milk should not be promoted for babies
  • Manufacturers and distributors should comply with the code’s provisions even if countries have not acted to implement the code.

The code has now become law in over 55 countries. A similar code for South Africa has been drafted and is currently being debated.


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