Breastfeeding Ads vs. Formula Company Lobbies

Over the last year, the Ad Council (those people responsible for cutting edge public service announcements), with sponsorship from the US government, has been creating PSA’s aimed at the promotion of breastfeeding. You probably haven’t seen the ads, though, because they have been critically scrutinized by whom else but the International Formula Council who has aggressively lobbied to prevent the government from airing the clips as they were originally created.

What’s the hype about? Well it seems the ad council opted to focus on the possible harm that can come to infants who are fed formula and that doesn’t sit well with the industry that stands to continue making a fortune from the sales of artificial infant milk. In the past, only the benefits of breast milk have been touted. These ads are too negative, they say.

The irony is that this very lobby is responsible for decades of negative anti-breastfeeding propaganda. Their very success was dependant on coercing parents into believing that breastfeeding would be more difficult, inconvenient, depressing, embarrassing and restrictive than formula feeding. The formula companies openly displayed this propaganda but as study after study unveiled the plethora of benefits that breastfeeding brings to both mother and child, the formula industry used more subliminal propaganda to make their point. Often this propaganda came in the form of “New Mother Packets” and then “Breastfeeding Support Packets” that claimed to offer practical advice and support for breastfeeding mothers but coincidentally picture these mothers as sullen, disheveled, and depressed in dark rooms alone with their babies. Conversely, bottle-fed babies were shown in the arms of glowingly happy new Mothers in well-lit happy environments surrounded by their husbands, delightfully gleeful younger children and supportive friends. The message may as well have been printed in bold – it’s the same message the formula companies have been trying to feed American mothers for decades, it is just packaged differently now.

So now the tables are turned and the International Formula Council is outraged that the ad council and government have sponsored ads outing the truth about formula usage. Because the International Formula Council can not say “We will lose millions if you show these ads”, instead they are making victims of Mothers as a way to lure the government away from these ads. They claim that these ads will hurt the feelings of Mothers who choose or are forced to rely on artificial milk to feed their babies and how dare the government slap the faces of millions of women in such a way!

The truth is that, as parents, we have thousands of choices we have to make on behalf of our children. Sometimes we make choices with risks attached, knowing full well that there are risks, because we feel these choices are best for our families. My ex-husband continues to smoke cigarettes despite the known health risks associated. When is the last time the government banned an anti-smoking ad because it might hurt a parent’s feelings to hear what second hand smoke does to a fetus or nearby child? Some parents choose not to vaccinate their children. When is the last time the government banned a PSA endorsing routine immunizations because it might offend the free choice of parents who morally or religiously oppose vaccines or whose children have medical reactions preventing the use of vaccines? Don’t these ads have the potential to be offensive to large populations of mothers too? To assume that Mothers would prefer to not be fully informed in order to have their feelings spared is patronizing, at best. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is about the feelings of Mothers. It is about dollars and cents – nothing more.

In the end, the lobby won their battle but many might say they lost the war. The lobby was able to argue that there was not sufficient scientific evidence in order to support *all* the claims being attributed to formula use. Despite the opposition of the AAP’s breastfeeding panel to this weak argument, the government still opted to edit the PSAs. They decided it would be “best” to focus on the benefits of breastfeeding instead of the possible risks of using formula, although rumor has it that a few of these risks will be mentioned without any supporting (read: controversial) statistics to support them. Many advocates for breastfeeding consider this simply semantic and represent a small victory for babies and their mothers. Others consider it a sell-out. In my opinion, advocating for breastfeeding on a national government-funded level can only be a good thing for Mothers and their babies. I just hope they show happy glowing mothers surrounded by supportive family and friends! Look for them on a national television network near you soon! In the meantime you can read more information on this campaign by visiting the following link:

Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health–National Women’s Health Center
Breastfeeding – Best For Baby. Best For Mom