On March 26, BFUSA announced that, in order to support facilities in assisting mothers to access adequate nutrition for their babies during the COVID-19 crisis, we would relax one standard regarding the provision of small quantities of formula upon discharge to formula feeding families in communities experiencing shortages in retail outlets. We did so to ensure that formula feeding families receive essential support during this global emergency. At the same time, we pointed to the importance of exclusive breast and breastmilk feeding as a means for building the infant’s immune system and the need to provide essential care to help breastfeeding succeed. We did NOT loosen restrictions on interactions with formula companies.
Regrettably, some formula companies have interpreted our statement as a window of opportunity to reengage their aggressive marketing tactics with Baby-Friendly designated hospitals. We have received copies of emails sent from formula company representatives to hospital personnel marketing their products under the pretense of a variety of “helpful” services, such as:
- promotion of different types of discharge programs which include various ways the names of mothers are turned over to the companies in exchange for free formula to either the hospital and/or directly to mothers, or both;
- branded and non-branded virtual in-service training for staff on a variety of topics, including breastfeeding; and
- “morale boosters” for staff.
Some might read this and ask, what is the harm of these practices? WHO reminds us in their “Guidance on Ending the Inappropriate Promotion of Foods for Infants and Young Children” that “health facilities and health workers are responsible for protecting optimal infant and young child feeding, and should minimize the potential for companies to influence parents, caregivers and families in the health setting. If health facilities are used to allow companies to access families directly, this will put the facility in a situation of promoting products rather than promoting health.” Collecting mothers’ names through discharge programs provides formula companies direct access to women of childbearing ages and exposes them to tactics that may undermine current and future infant feeding decisions.
We at BFUSA are appalled that these companies would use the pandemic as an “opportunity” to advance their business interests under the guise of an intent to support facilities during this difficult time.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is founded on the principle that parents should be empowered to make informed decisions about infant feeding without the influence of commercial interests. That foundational principle remains fully intact. In fact, we believe it is as important now as it ever has been. Baby-Friendly designated facilities have a responsibility to protect mothers and families from aggressive marketing, including the intentional undermining of breastfeeding success
Once again, we extend our deepest gratitude to all healthcare providers, staff and first responders for the heroic work you are doing to provide incredible care to your patients. Please stay safe.