Sunday, July 27, 2014

Marketing infant formula with the magic of a coupon fairy

              "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
                                                       --Eleanor Roosevelt

Social media, marketing, public relations and social marketing use words and images in the management of our perceptions.  Our reality becomes the world of name brands, products, trinkets and toys that are coveted for the micro-second in internet time.  Discarded next year for the new, improved, sleek and shiny thing of tomorrowland.  Public relation campaigns are about managing the reputations of products or clients.  We are managed and most of us don't even know it.  But then if you knew that you were being managed and manipulated, the marketing would no longer work. 

Breastfeeding advocates are currently faced with a media and marketing campaign entitled, "I Support You" spearheaded by Suzanne Barston, of The Fearless Formula Feeder blog.  The implication is that breastfeeding advocates do not support infant formula feeding mothers.  And that we need a media campaign to get breastfeeding advocates to treat infant formula feeding mothers more fairly.  Little mention is made of how breastfeeding mothers are treated in public.  How breastfeeders are often kicked out of public facilities for breastfeeding.  The argument seems to be weighted on the side of the injustices suffered by infant formula feeders.  Heaven forbid a breastfeeding advocate dare comment on that particular blog.  In fact early on I realized it was a waste of time to make any comments in defense of breastfeeding advocacy on that blog.  It either gets erased or you are personally attacked.  I have watched a variety of breastfeeding advocates bullied on that blog.  So I wonder how can we, breastfeeding advocates, be asked to join this media campaign?  Joining the campaign means that we accept that we have made infant formula feeders feel guilt and shame. I believe that guilt or shame are emotions that are self-imposed feelings.  Blaming others creates anger in the people accused and solves nothing.   I call this an example of scapegoating and it is a great propaganda technique.

Recently it has come to my attention that the "I Support You" campaign is asking breastfeeding and infant formula feeding mothers to bring infant formula coupons to retail stores to give to mothers in an "I Support You" gesture.  The coupon used to show as an example was a Similac coupon.  The retail stores that were used as examples to go to were Walmart, CVS, and Target.  The reason for giving out these coupons was for mothers who could not afford infant formula.  All 3 stores mentioned offer store brand infant formulas from Perrigo which are not as expensive as name-brand formulas like Similac or Enfamil or Carnation Good Start.  I found myself wondering why The Fearless Formula Feeder picked Similac as an example of the coupon to use?  But then I watched one of her instructional videos on infant formula feeding at entitled, "Differences between formulas,"  and to my surprise she specifically mentions one particular brand of formula, Similac Advance [corrected-wrote Advanced] and no other brand.  She also states that infant formula standards are regulated by the Infant Formula Council (which is made up of the various infant formula companies) and the FDA.  Later I found out that prior to creating her blog, Fearless Formula Feeder, was hired with her husband to do a Pampers reality show (A Parent is Born and Welcome to Parenthood).  Both reality shows were sponsored by Pampers but Welcome to Parenthood was also sponsored by Similac and Beechnut.  Both shows are still available for viewing on you tube.  On the internet there are offers for free Pampers and Similac Bundle of Joy Sample kits.  So it would seem that Pampers (Proctor & Gamble) and Similac (Abbott) do joint marketing adventures.  This infant formula association has been pointed out by other bloggers and on August 12, 2012, Suzanne Barston felt it necessary to respond (post entitled, "The startling FFF Disclosure Post."  I found her response light-hearted, and sarcastic.  How could anyone believe that it had any influence on her?  She only became aware of the infant formula sponsorship after she had already done the series.  I know that happens.  We can't always control situations.  Yet the coupon fairy seems to be bringing Similac coupons.  And in the video discussing the differences between formulas, she specifically mentions Similac Advance [corrected-wrote Advantage] and no other name brand.  Coincidence?  The subtle influence of brand names?  

How does the use of infant formula coupons undermine breastfeeding?  One of the problems I see with this exhortation to leave infant formula coupons at stores for economically disadvantage mothers is that there is no control over who gets the coupons.  Thus the pregnant mother is accidently targeted by this kind of marketing.  Helping disadvantaged mothers with coupons creates a dependency on those coupons.  When they stop coming, what can the disadvantaged mother do?  

Should breastfeeding advocates be infant formula coupon fairies to show their support of infant formula feeding mothers?   And what are the infant formula feeding mothers doing to show support of breastfeeding mothers?  Somehow I have not heard that part of this very one-sided media campaign.

I was somewhat surprised that the Fearless Formula Feeder has become a CLC (Certified Lactation Consultant).  Why would someone who believes foremost in the support of infant formula feeders become a Certified Lactation Consultant? How does someone who advocates for infant formula support breastfeeding?  And how does someone who advocates for breastfeeding support infant formula feeding?  Is it possible to do both without compromising your beliefs regarding risks; since how babies are fed is a health care decision and not a personal lifestyle choice? 

I find the "I Support You" media campaign very troubling.  Who in breastfeeding organizations is behind this campaign? Is this social marketing gone amuck? Why does it appear to be a totally one-sided campaign in support of infant formula feeding?  Why are we to accept  that breastfeeding advocates are to blame for the guilt and shame of infant formula feeders? How does handing out infant formula coupons support breastfeeding?
 Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain


  1. Thank you for perpetuating the stereotype that women are so stupid that we see a coupon and instantly quit breastfeeding for formula. Why does it have to be an either/or with people like you? Why can't you understand that by supporting those who formula feed, you can still support those who breastfeed.

    And both breastfeeding and formula feeding moms are treated like crap in public. You can't feed your kid formula because it's poison and breastfeeding = public indecency. If the two groups could get together and support each other, then things might change.

  2. Dear Anonymous, I see nothing in what I wrote that stated that "women are so stupid that we see a coupon and instantly quit breastfeeding for formula." There are studies that show that breastfeeding mothers who introduce infant formula are at a higher risk of weaning from the breast. Breastfeeding mothers who introduce infant formula do not instantly quit breastfeeding. What happens is their milk supply is reduced in proportion to the amount of infant formula introduced. Coupons are directly marketing a product that has known and unknown risks. I refuse to participate in marketing for the infant formula industry.

    You ask, "Why does it have to be an either/or with people like you?" I accept that mothers have different breastfeeding goals. I breastfed and formula-fed my first baby due to sore and bleeding nipples and quit on day 11. I fully relactated several months later. Most American mothers breastfeed and use infant formula. I accept that that is the current reality in the USA. I confess that I personally and professionally believe that there are risks to infant formula. Risks that have been known and documented through research since the 1970's. Those risks should not be taken lightly. This blog is about the many patents on human milk, many of which are owned by the infant formula industry. These patents often admit to the adverse effects of their product on infants-- for example causing diarrhea (which is known to cause 1.5 million deaths world-wide, including the USA).

    Things are not going to change when one group scapegoats breastfeeding advocacy. And particularly, when one group wants everyone to participate in marketing for the infant formula industry. Health care professionals (CLCs as well as IBCLCs) who hand out free infant formula and coupons are perceived to have a conflict of interest. Doctors are no longer allowed to hand out free samples or materials that advertise pharmaceutical companies to their patients. Why? Because the public perceives it to be a conflict of interest. Likewise, members of health care professions who dispense free infant formula or their coupons are in many cases violating their own ethical standards. It is not about not giving support, its about marketing!

  3. You ask how formula feeding mothers are supporting breast feeding mothers. Well, as a woman I have supported breast feeding mothers for as long as I can remember. As a feminist, I have fought for their right to feed their children in public. I have provided emotional support for friends and family during their breast feeding struggles. As a woman, I have always been supportive of mothers and had an understanding of how incredibly difficult motherhood can be.
    I found it to be quite devastating when I was physically unable to feed my newborn son with my breasts.
    I gave him his first taste of formula when he was five days old.
    It was the first time I actually fed him.
    He was hours away from being hospitalized, after losing 20% of his birthweight.
    After that first drop of formula, not only did I lose all the support from my public health nurses and LC’s, but I lost the support from most of the women in my life. I avoided searching for support online because the unavoidable fear-mongering perpetuated by lactivism was too much to sift through. After 2 months of pumping my dry breasts to the point of bleeding, I gave up. That’s when I reached out, and discovered that there are thousands of women who went through what I went through. That, combined with the fact that Lactivist LC's like yourself are retiring, has given me hope that women can finally come together and put an end to this childish fight over infant feeding choices.

  4. I am sorry that breastfeeding did not work out for you and that you feel unsupported by public health nurses and LCs for that decision.

    I don't consider myself a lactivist and have written about that in my blog some years ago. I retired as an IBCLC 3 years ago and prior to that was inactive as an IBCLC for about 5 years. I doubt that the fight over infant feeding choices will end despite the retirement of people like me. Infant feeding choices is not just about how one woman makes or is forced to make a choice; but is about the power of corporations over our personal decisions. That corporate power is exemplified by a lack of access to good care and information on breastfeeding and the lack of restrictions on the marketing of infant formula to the public. Is this a childish fight over infant feeding choices? When the infant formula industry is making billions of dollars in profits, who should we be fighting? Each other? And hoping for someone's retirement? Or might we consider how corporate influence infects our medical establishments and professions? And maybe it is not one group or another that fuels this fighting among mothers but rather a billion dollar industry?

  5. I suffered PPD as a result of lactation failure. The extreme stress and heartache, guilt and shame I felt for not being able to feed my baby the way nature intended sent me into a very, very deep place, because of all the propaganda about how terrible formula is. I have a medical diagnosis that states very clearly (found out after 2 failed attempts at breastfeeding) that I'll never produce enough milk to exclusively breast feed. The books and videos and everything else i took in during my preparations into motherhood sold one story time and time again "Breast is best" "Good moms breast feed" "only the worst moms would poison their babies with formula" "every woman can breast feed, only lazy moms fail." Well guess what, I worked my butt off, but I did fail, and after the second baby my Lactation consultant patted my shoulder and told me that I'd never be able to exclusively breast feed. She told me it was OK to use formula, that the most important thing was to feed that baby (who, at 4 days old, was so dehydrated, he was on the brink of being admitted back into the hospital). Now, she did everything in her power to make sure I knew what my options were with combo feeding. To make sure that, since I wanted to breast feed, I had the best possible position, latch, shield, etc. That I knew how to work my hospital grade pump and had the right size flanges. At the end of the day, she gave me a ready to use formula sample to use in my SNS and feed my starving baby the nutrients he needed and handed me tissues and I sobbed about my traumatic birth experience and horrid failure as a breastfeeder (and as a mother as I saw it). She gave me support, but she didn't say "Hey, quit breastfeeding" she said "only you know what's best for your baby, but I'm going to help you any way I can if you want to continue to breastfeed in whatever capacity you can." and guess what, i continued for a while (with both children), but I felt so much less guilt the second time around because I had found the "i support you" campaign. I found people who supported both sides. and I support both sides. I sat up with my best friend all hours of the night helping HER with breastfeeding her newborn, and I cheerleaded some of my friends in my mom group through mastitis and raw nipples and growth spurts, and they responded by telling me that formula is poison, and I should've tried harder. I had to be put on medication because of some of the things that lactivists shoved on me, just to be able to take care of my babies. NO one should make another mother feel like dirt because she made the best decision she could in the situation given to her, and THAT is why, regardless of sponsorships, MOMS should support MOMS. We should not degrade each other. We should not put ourselves on a pedestal, because at the end of toddlerhood, no one knows or cares 'breast or bottle' no one cares 'cloth or disposable' or any of the other "mommy war" topics. It just doesn't really matter. hey guess what Breastfeeders, I SUPPORT YOU. Bottle Feeders: I SUPPORT YOU. Combo feeders: I SUPPORT YOU. Tubie mamas: I SUPPORT YOU. Stop the mommy wars and mommy guilt and start loving babies and SUPPORTING each other.

  6. Anonymous, Let me repeat the quote from the top of this blog post, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt who inspired a generation of women and men many years ago. She overcame many personal difficulties: orphaned as a child, brought up by unloving relatives, called "ugly."

    I consider breastfeeding not as a pass/fail obstacle course but one in which we learn a lot about ourselves. Thus I would say to you that your decision regarding infant feeding is not about failing or failure but about learning your limits, both physically and emotionally. Its about acceptance of who you are and what you believe is possible. Its about learning how to handle rude and unaccepting people. You are who you are and every one of us are here on earth to learn what we need to learn to live our lives. We aren't failures in life, we are learners in life. No two people will learn in the same way and our decisions about our lives will never match anyone else (unless we are identical twins--and even some identical twins will differ). We are each unique human being who should be treasured for our uniqueness.

    The struggle that so many of us women face has a lot to do with living in a technological society in which real communication is often dysfunctional at best. We also live in a society that is run by corporations who have millions to spend on advertising campaigns, on blogs, and writing PR pieces as news. The infant formula industry funds education for health care providers in which information is slanted to benefit the industry and its need for customers. How much of our learning about breastfeeding is influenced by the infant formula industry?

    I do not agree with your belief in the "I support you," media campaign. Although I do believe that all women need support systems when becoming a mother. I believe there are known risks to the use of infant formula--this blog is in part about the patents the infant formula companies own in which they admit to adverse effects of their products. I believe that the more the media portrays the "mommy wars," the more there will be mommy wars. I don't believe there was a mommy war until certain blogs kept playing the theme song. "I support you," a media campaign, plays into this theme song because obviously if you need a PR campaign to stop the mommy wars then the mommy wars must be real, bad and pervasive in our society. The mommy wars appears to exist on the internet, but is that reality?

    While infant feeding decisions are personal choices, these decisions are influenced by the power of a billion dollar industry. Thus the personal is the political. If we continue to focus on the mommy wars rather than who profits from this conflict, then we have learned nothing from the history of the infant formula industry.

  7. Yesterday, Kirsten Vickers sent the following comment to me,
    Kirsten Vickers said...

    Ah yes, I see you call yourself a 'breastfeeding advocate'. You are also strongly against the formula industry. And you disagree with formula feeding mothers having a place to collectively get together to discuss formula feeding - A safe place that does not allow Lactivists to preach or troll.
    But you don't consider yourself a Lactivist. Ok.
    If you actually believe that the guilt felt by mothers who were forced or even chose to use infant formula was self-inflicted, and has nothing to do with being told by health care practitioners, LC's, mother-in-laws, etc that 'Formula is poison; Breast is Best; Your baby is going to die of SIDS if you don't give your baby breastmilk'.... IF you ACTUALLY believe that this fear mongering is not extremely dangerous for a new mother to deal with in her early days of postpartum recovery - You are a Sociopath by definition.

    Infant Formula saves lives. I don't care who profits from it. And if a woman chooses to use it because she saw an ad or received a coupon for it, that's none of your business.

    September 23, 2014 at 1:39 PM

  8. I posted Kirsten's comment to me, after taking some time to think about it. I was disturbed by the name calling in her comments. While it appears to me her criticism of lactivists/breastfeeding advocates is for their rude comments directed at infant formula feeding mothers, she herself has reverted to name-calling. When a person attacks their opponent's character rather than answering their arguments, it is called ad hominem. Kirsten's comments are example of why some lactivists and breasteeding advocates take offense at the "I Support You" media campaign and Fearless Formula's blog. And its why my "retirement" (which is what Kirsten was wishing for to improve the situation) will not stop the mommy wars. In fact, addressing these issues as an opportunity to use character assassination as an argument is not only childish but borders on libel.

    Kirsten describes what she thinks is my views on this situation. Let me clarify my views. You say, "I am against the formula industry." No I am not against the infant formula industry. They have paid for most of the amazing and wonderful studies on human milk and they plan to use those studies to improve their product (by either genetically engineering human milk components or getting the real human milk component from our for-profit milk banks). Have to admire their intelligence and creativity! But the infant formula industry has the responsibility to manufacture a safe product and to fully inform the public of their ingredients (and the safety of those ingredients). The infant formula industry uses gmo ingredients and they do not have to label it (thank the FDA for their opinion that genetically altered substances are equivalent to what nature makes). So I feel that any industry that makes its profits off of our most vulnerable population must prove (other than their own-paid for studies) that their product is safe and the public needs to be fully informed about the ingredients they use. This is simply a matter of public safety and my belief that the public has a right to know what is in the food they are consuming or their children are eating.

    I have never stated anywhere that I, "disagree with infant formula feeding mothers having a place to collectively get together to discuss formula feeding-A safe place that does not allow Lactivists to preach or troll." And should I presume that Kirsten is accepting of breastfeeding mothers/Lactivists being allowed to collectively get together to discuss breastfeeding-A safe place that does not allow fearless formula feeding mothers to preach or troll?"

    I believe that infant formula feeding has risks and mothers should be fully informed of those risks, in fact all of society should be fully informed of those risks. Just like I believe that our society has to be fully informed about the risks of smoking cigarettes or the risks of drugs (legal or not). Keeping people in the dark about health risks may make industries and consumers of these products happier, but it comes at a price to the health and lives of a number of people.

    I will not publish any more of Kirsten's comments due to her name-calling which adds nothing to this discussion, other than making it a one-sided acceptance of character assassination. Anyone else who chooses this method of argument is now warned that it is unacceptable on this blog.