Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Hospital keepsake for newborn babies is an effective marketing tool for infant formula companies

From "A Mother is Born" blog post
What Not to Say To A New Mother: Hospital Edition
by Meredith Fein Lichtenberg
It's important to see the lengths infant formula companies go to in order to market breastmilk substitutes.

Take a look at this bassinet card Meredith Fein Lichtenberg writes about in her recent post "What Not to Say To a Mother: Hospital Edition" and making the rounds on Facebook thanks to Unlatched.

These bassinet cards are printed up by the hundreds of thousands and given free of charge to hospitals because infant formula makers know it keeps hospitals from having to spend precious dollars to print out their own ID cards. The front of the card is the standard ID card for babies in bassinets - the one that has the baby's name, date and time of birth, and weight. The card is what most parents take home with them as the only keepsake they have with that information. I remember being warned about these cards when I was first in hospital 30 years ago, when the concept of rooming in was new and babies were routinely kept in the nursery overnight and fed formula by the night nurses so new moms could sleep. Breastfeeding moms were advised to take in a marker and write "breastfed baby only, no formula!" on the cards.

The cards are clearly an effective marketing tool if they are still being used all these years later.

The card above is designed to convince mothers to keep feeding their babies Similac if breastmilk happens to have been supplemented with infant formula. Brief supplementation after birth, if medically necessary, will be ordered by health care providers. If donor milk isn't available infant formula will be used. The infant formula used is usually the formula provided to the hospital through an exclusive contract with a formula maker - in this case the hospital is using Abbott's Similac. Those contracts are a gold mine for infant formula companies as parents typically continue to use the same brand of formula when they leave the hospital.

Abbott Nutrition, the maker of Similac, is undermining breastfeeding by using this bassinet card to convince parents that their health care provider knows best and they shouldn't try to change the feeding "orders."  The words on the back of the card:

"Deciding what to feed is an important decision, one that should be made by those who know your baby's nutritional needs best. Don't make any changes in the feeding that has been specified for your baby without talking with your baby's doctor, nurse or nutritionist. Provided as a keepsake from Abbott Nutrition, Makers of Similac." 

Some parents may interpret this to mean the health care provider, who ordered what was intended to be supplemental infant formula for a brief period, believes that infant formula is better than breastfeeding for their baby. Note the card suggests advice from a nutritionist?

This is what is on the back of a bassinet card
Edmonton mother Rebecca Cameron received from the
Royal Alexandra Hospital. A similar card is shown
in the Alberta Breastfeeding Committee/IBFAN brochure on
WHO Code violations in Alberta.
And who employs a team of nutritionists available night and day to help moms making infant feeding decisions? Why, Similac! Last year over on my other blog, Jodine's World, I wrote about how ads for Similac's 24/7 advice hotline showed up alongside Babble's breastfeeding advice for new moms.

And it's not just Similac's maker Abbott Nutrition using this aggressive marketing tactic. Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil, also offers nutritional advice and a 1-800 line on their bassinet name tags - every baby born in a hospital with an Enfamil contract in Canada gets this keepsake card to take home with them. On the back:
"Infant Nutrition Questions? Our trusted team is here to help. Call our experts at 1-800-361-6323 weekdays 9AM to 6PM ET or visit enfamil.ca anytime."
Nothing like getting breastfeeding support from the people who have a vested interest in seeing your breastfeeding relationship fail!

After I wrote my blog post about Similac's 24/7 hotline, I heard from a mom who had phoned for advice (Babble.com's Similac hotline a big fat #fail.) She reported an immediate offer to ship free infant formula by overnight courier when she expressed concern her baby wasn't getting enough breastmilk (the number one concern of breastfeeding moms - and the solution is not to breastfeed less!) This mom was also told that after six months a quality infant formula would offer the same benefits as breastmilk.

These bassinet cards are a violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, commonly referred to as the WHO Code. Hospitals who are accredited under the Baby Friendly Initiative adhere to the WHO Code and do not allow this sort of aggressive marketing tactic.

Here in Canada the Canadian Pediatric Society and Health Canada have called for hospitals to become accredited through the Baby Friendly Initiative. In the US a growing number of hospitals are turning to the Baby Friendly designation as both the CDC and the US Surgeon General renew their push for implementation of these practices.

The US Centre for Disease Control actually has breastfeeding friendly bassinet card PDFs you can download (girl / boy). I've often thought community breastfeeding coalitions and organizations could produce their own cards with local support and help information - but of course that requires money and it seems only the infant formula companies have a marketing budget big enough to cover this cost  - hence the need for an International Code to govern their marketing practices!

Thanks to the many moms who shared their baby keepsake cards with me, thanks to Unlatched for sharing this image on Facebook and provoking me to blog on this issue, and to A Mother Is Born author Meredith Fein Lichtenberg for giving me permission to use it.