A call to reinvigorate the International Code Of Marketing Of Breastmilk Substitutes

Last month marked the 39th anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code Of Marketing Of Breastmilk Substitutes. As the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) reminds us,  “Following the adoption of the Code in 1981, governments have been called upon by the World Health Assembly to give effect to the provisions in the Code through national legislation. So far, UNICEF/ World Health Organization (WHO)/ #IBFAN have identified 136 countries as having Code regulations in place.”

Photo by Andre Adjahoe on Unsplash

You might know that the U.S. is not one of these nations. 

In a timely offering– when formula companies use the crises of the pandemic to prey on mothers and babies– The Network for Global Monitoring and Support for Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions (#NetCode) has developed a toolkit to reinvigorate and reinforce ongoing monitoring and periodic assessment of the Code and national laws. The toolkit offers health advocates an opportunity to connect with governments to establish a sustainable system that will monitor, detect and report violations of national laws. Find it here: https://waba.org.my/netcode-toolkit-for-ongoing-monitoring-and-periodic-assessment-of-the-code/?fbclid=IwAR2PzeROMctrsCJ3ZiG8gah07IXQMhI-3eSn6EqLDhV3-TdGhhmk-IxDzt4

“Formula manufacturers are exploiting the panic and fears of contagion to intensify their aggressive marketing practices,” Patti Rundall writes in the Baby Milk Action policy blog. “In this context, government action to regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes has never been greater.”

On May 28, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launched the virtual 2020 Status Report which highlights which countries have implemented measures required by the Code. [The official launch event can be viewed here.]

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“Given the important role of health workers in protecting pregnant women, mothers and their infants from inappropriate promotion of breast-milk substitutes, the 2020 report provides an extensive analysis of legal measures taken to prohibit promotion to health workers and in health facilities,” Thahira Shireen Mustafa, Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, writes. 

In the U.S. in late March, Baby-Friendly USA released a statement detailing access to adequate nutrition for babies born during the Covid-19 crisis with an announcement explaining that BFUSA  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,” BFUSA CEO Trish MacEnroe writes. “We did NOT loosen restrictions on interactions with formula companies.”

MacEnroe goes on to write, “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 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.

So, please let us be perfectly clear: Our standards are still our standards. We have not ‘loosened’ our guidelines and we still expect Baby-Friendly designated facilities to shield health care workers, mothers and families from commercial influence, as outlined in the International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes.”

Photo by Luiza Braun on Unsplash

In other parts of the world too, companies exploit the Covid-19 crisis. Baby Milk Action documents how one company violates Indian Law with their YouTube channel. Keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on Baby Milk Action’s page and you’ll find offense after offense after offense documented in multiple countries. 

In response, there are several documents cited offering guidance on how to navigate avoiding partnerships with these corporations.  Find them here

On an individual level, this is a great time to remind Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) of our Code of Ethics which states we must “Abide by the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions which pertain to health workers.”

Changing the narrative around infant feeding in Hmong population

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Help us celebrate by revisiting the work of Tiffany Pao Yang, the daughter of Hmong refugees and a United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) Cultural ChangeMaker. This post was originally published on Our Milky Way on June 16, 2019. 

The fifth daughter of Hmong refugees, Tiffany Pao Yang was always introduced as her parents’ first American child.

Tiffany’s family in front of their home in Laos. Her father, left, mother next, paternal grandmother, her cousin and her oldest sister, Mai Houa in red.
 

“There was a lot of pride in it,” Yang says.

Yang’s parents, her older sisters and their grandmother resettled in Sheboygan, Wis. in the early 1990s, and while having an American daughter was a source of pride for her family, they never lost touch with their roots.

“Growing up, my parents always reminded me and my siblings of our Hmong identity,” Yang explains.

During her Life Sciences Communication, Gender and Women’s Studies and Global Health studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yang was introduced to public health, and more specifically, health disparities and inequities. She says she saw her family and her community reflected in these courses which ultimately led her to discover her passion for maternal ​and child health.

A recent graduate from the maternal child health graduate program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Yang connected with the Minnesota WIC program during her graduate studies. The WIC Breastfeeding report further describes health inequities through low breastfeeding rates in the Hmong population.

Tiffany’s mother, sister, Lada, and baby Tiffany.

The report shows that “Traditional racial categories are inadequate to describe breastfeeding rates in Minnesota’s diverse communities … Among Asian infants, the Hmong are least likely to initiate breastfeeding (59%).”

Hmong mothers have the lowest breastfeeding continuation rates too; one in eight Hmong mothers breastfeeds at six months and one in twenty-seven Hmong mothers breastfeeds at 12 months. [https://www.health.state.mn.us/docs/people/wic/localagency/reports/bf/info/2018bffactsheet.pdf]

Charged by these statistics, the Hmong Breastfeeding Initiative (HBI) was created to promote and educate the Hmong community about breastfeeding.  The HBI is a collaboration between MDH WIC program, Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition (MBC), and Ramsey County Public Health; Yang’s work with HBI was organized by the Minnesota Health Department’s WIC program.

Yang and her colleagues facilitated listening sessions and an Equity ​Action Lab with Hmong providers, peer counselors and elders to learn how to better serve the community.

Through their work, they learned that assimilation plays a big role in low breastfeeding rates. Because immigrants don’t see American women breastfeeding in public, they are less likely to do so. Even when Hmong mothers reported breastfeeding in public, they were shamed, Yang explains.

Returning to work and school, sometimes in the very early days postpartum, inhibits breastfeeding too. While this is well-known and documented, cultural factors further complicate this barrier in Hmong families. In Hmong culture, people are sometimes hesitant to handle breastmilk because there is a belief that if breastmilk is spilled into another’s food or drink and is consumed, they will be struck by lightning, Yang explains.

Access to competent, culturally appropriate prenatal and postpartum healthcare is limited too. Yang reports there is currently only one Hmong IBCLC in the nation. Other lactation professionals and peer counselors especially have bridged this gap creating trusted support.  

Tiffany’s mother carrying her sister, Bao, in  a “nyias” (baby carrier). Two of her sisters were born in Thai refugee camps.

The HBI Equity ​Action Lab allowed Yang and participants to create culturally significant breastfeeding messaging, a breastfeeding photo and art contest, and most recently received a grant to create educational breastfeeding videos ​for elders, male partners highlighting the importance of colostrum. In Hmong culture, it is widely believed that colostrum is harmful.

Ya​ng says she is excited about sharing Hmong families’ journeys and changing the narrative. Although breastfeeding rates are low, Yang reminds us that “Hmong women have always breastfed, many do want to breastfeed and many are.”

Tiffany’s dad, mom, and herself at a Hmong market in St. Paul, Minn.

Yang and colleagues presented their work this weekend at the USBC 9th National Breastfeeding Conference and Convening.

In July, Yang and her team plan to create a breastfeeding presence at the 39th Annual Hmong International Freedom Festival. [The 2020 Hmong International Freedom Festival has been cancelled due to Covid-19.]  

Spotlight on Fédora Bernard, Program Officer at The Right Livelihood Foundation

Fédora Bernard is currently Program Officer at The Right Livelihood Foundation, an organization established to “‘honour and support courageous people solving global problems’… now widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’”. 

Bernard presenting in Rio.

Before transitioning into her work at The Right Livelihood, Bernard served as Geneva Association for Baby Food and International Liaison Office of the IBFAN Network (GIFA) Program Officer beginning in April 2019, having just newly graduated from the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Développement with a Masters in International Affairs. 

This week, Our Milky Way is pleased to share a Q&A session with Bernard. 

Q: Please share a few highlights during your time with IBFAN. 

A: I am deeply passionate about human rights and GIFA was specialized in exactly that. I think that throughout my time at IBFAN, some highlights would probably be the sessions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child that I attended and advocated at, the World Health Assembly, the fifth session of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights and of course, the World Breastfeeding Conference in Rio. They were all avenues where we could raise awareness and advocate for better national policies.

Q:  What would you consider your greatest triumph with IBFAN?

A: I am not sure I could speak of triumph, at the end of the day my time with IBFAN was quite short and all I did was trying to keep up with the amazing work that has been done by the Geneva office for the past 40 years. Nevertheless, I am very proud of the achievements with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as during my time with IBFAN, “breastfeeding” was mentioned in almost all concluding observations.

Q: In November 2019, you had the opportunity to present IBFAN’s Green Feeding documents. What was that like? How was it received by participants at the World Breastfeeding Conference? 

A: It was an incredible experience, it was an honor to prepare this with Alison Linnecar, who wrote the document and to present it along with experts in the field. I don’t think that I can define myself as an expert, let alone a breastfeeding expert, but I am starting a career in advocacy. I therefore decided that I wanted to emphasize how the Green Feeding Documents could be used as an advocacy tool from an environmental perspective. Therefore, while Alison explained the science behind all of it, I focused on the link between breastfeeding and human rights, more in particular how it can be used in relation to the right to a safe, healthy environment. At the end of the presentation, I was so happy to see that most people in the audience wanted a copy of the green feeding documents…I thought that 30 copies would be enough, but clearly, I was wrong! I wish I had brought more.

Jose Angel Rodriguez-Reyes, expert of the Committee on the Rights of the Child pictured alongside Bernard.

Q: In your piece BREASTFEEDING: BEYOND “WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD”, you mention the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding to Protect, Promote and Support Breastfeeding. We have the framework for better global health outcomes; What is holding us back? Is there one significant barrier standing in the way of a better world? 

A: I believe that from a political perspective, two things are holding us back: The first being the patriarchy and political systems dominated by men. As long as women will not be allowed to play a greater role in global health governance and domestic politics, public health issues such as breastfeeding or issues surrounding menstrual health will not be given the right amount of attention. 

The second element is political will, which is deeply related to the first. Breastfeeding is only seen as a public health issue in developing countries, and aggressive marketing from the formula industry has managed to convince women themselves that they are actually more empowered if they don’t breastfeed. Breastfeeding is thus seen as a weight imposed on them rather than a right that should be protected, promoted and supported by governments. In some societies, it is indeed currently a real hurdle for women to achieve their breastfeeding goals but instead of women in their breastfeeding journeys benefiting from policies, they are given a bottle. I am of the idea that improved breastfeeding policies are not only a matter of public health but also of women’s rights. 

Q: Any advice on how to navigate a climate where people dispute basic facts?

A: That is a very difficult question…Especially because those disputing basic facts are often deeply attached to their position and will give you alternative “facts”…I believe very much in trusted sources, and would always advise these people to check their sources and question them. For instance, if someone shows me an article from the industry containing “facts on breastfeeding” I would draw their attention on why this article could be biased and not based on adequate scientific evidence.

Q: Breastfeeding is a topic that spans across all disciplines. Will you please give us a glimpse into the work you’re doing at The Right Livelihood? 

A: The Right Livelihood Foundation honors and supports courageous people solving global problems, in all disciplines. IBFAN is actually one of them. With civil society space shrinking all over the world, human rights defenders are facing increasing difficulties, which is very true also for breastfeeding advocates. My work at the foundation therefore consists in using the advocacy skills that I developed with IBFAN, to support laureates all over the world.

Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) offered completely online for first time ever

In this uncertain time, it can be helpful to remember that we have control over the way we respond to the things we don’t have control over. Healthy Children Project joins individuals, businesses and organizations that have had to adapt to this strange, challenging Covid-19 situation. 

“When you face challenges, we have two choices: Let it stop you or find a way to grow and make a difference, even during challenging times. Now, more than ever, lactation counselors are needed to promote, protect and support breastfeeding families, even though we temporarily find ourselves in a place where face-to-face courses can’t happen,” says Karin Cadwell, Healthy Children Project’s executive director. 

Since social distancing and safer-at-home policies have been implemented, Healthy Children Project (HCP) was propelled to use this as an opportunity to offer the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) completely online for the first time ever. 

“While we still strongly believe that the experience of being together for the LCTC course has provided wonderful opportunities for meeting new friends and colleagues and networking, the changing times have propelled us to revisit the course delivery options,” Cadwell says. 

ALPP will offer an online, remotely-proctored CLC exam starting this week

The LCTC course combines up-to-date high level evidence, counseling training, policy and practice.

“I have learned so much already that medical school, 20 years of practicing and nursing four babies never taught me. (I am only in the second section!)” one participant shares. 

Another participant shares: “I was extremely happy with this course, as it was taught in a way that was inclusive, free of bias, and with much knowledge. In addition, the evidence that was provided was exceptional. Though I was not able to do this course in person, the instructors created a course that was not only highly educational, but also enjoyable. Thank you again to all that made this course happen.”

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The online LCTC is a self-paced online course presented in an engaging and energetic format through videos, self-check questions and competency verification and twice-weekly office hours with faculty to answer additional questions for online participants. 

“I am truly enjoying the format of this course and it definitely helps that you are all so entertaining and fun! I feel like I am sitting in your living room and you are telling me everything you know and it is quite lovely!” on participant exclaims.

The course should take 52 hours to complete (just like the in-person version).

“I’m so impressed with our participants. They are working on the course when they get back from a long day working in the hospital or in between their kids online school zoom meetings. They are finding ways to grow and learn, even with this new ‘normal’ we are all experiencing,” according to Healthy Children Project faculty Kajsa Brimdyr.

Offering the LCTC online has produced some unexpected benefits like accessibility. 

“I love that we are able to offer this to those who need the flexibility of online learning, those who may not be able to get five days off in a row can take this course on their own time, in a way that works for busy lives and schedules,” says Brimdyr.

“I enjoyed the teaching methods utilized and enjoyed the ability to work on training while having the ability to pause and do other duties for my employment as well,” another participant attests.

What’s more, faculty has gotten creative about how to best replicate the face-to-face experience. 

“The office hours are a popular aspect of the new online class,” says Healthy Children Project’s Anna Blair. “Karin and I have had a great time getting to know the participants and help them think about how to integrate the new information into their practice. It’s really fun. My dog, Sandy, occasionally joins us and I love seeing all the faces (and participants’ babies and dogs) on the screen during the office hours.” 

Blair continues, “It is so nice to connect with the participants who are going through this journey.” 

Participants have also shared that one of their favorite parts of the course is  the virtual office hours with faculty. 

“It is really helpful hearing some of the questions and answers people are asking/getting,” one explains. 

Participants can email questions in advance or ask questions during the office hours in the chat feature of the program. In the absence of in-person learning, this feature replicates the value of hearing others’ questions. Each office hour section is logged and labeled by topic so that students can revisit and review the questions at their convenience. 

Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

“We kept thinking about the phrase ‘Laurus crescit in arduis’ –Laurel grows in steep and difficult places,” Cadwell begins. “Not only have we seen amazing stories of resilience in the news and with our friends, our team at Healthy Children has been focused on making a difference in the world. We all have, and need, the opportunity to bloom. Learning together, we can share our experiences and knowledge. We have loved hearing from our participants during the course – their ideas, experiences and future plans. We all can work together to make a difference for breastfeeding families.”


To register for the Online Lactation Counselor Training, please click here.

Breastfeeding in shelters

Among the many effects of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic has exposed our nation’s deficiencies: emergency unpreparedness, racial health disparities, our “highly polarized, fragmented, and individualistic society…” (I would add arrogant), and the failure of capitalism.  In marginalized populations, poverty, health inequities, and other burdens are amplified during an outbreak or other emergency. 

Long before the pandemic hit, individuals and advocacy organizations have been ringing the alarm, calling for better access to education, better healthcare, and equity and justice for all.

Of these trailblazers is Powerhouse Nikki Lee RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, CKC, RYT whose recent endeavor includes creating and implementing the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter

In her role at the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Lee noticed the challenges breastfeeding people face in shelters. 

The barriers are a result of our cultural attitude toward lactating people and misunderstandings about their bodies and needs. 

Lee talks about issues of privacy and ‘fairness’ in a shelter. Organizational dress codes often require residents to dress modestly, so when a person exposes their breasts to feed a baby, other residents can wonder why they’re not allowed to wear short shorts. Parents can express concern about the teenage boys in their families seeing breasts while a baby is being fed.

There’s the concern over safe milk storage and the mythology around reimbursement through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Shelter staff may believe that if a mother breastfeeds, the facility will lose money to buy food because the allotted amount for infant formula isn’t getting used. Lee clarifies that if a mother breastfeeds, the institution will have more money to spend on food.  

Just like in the rest of the US, there tends to be a push for formula feeding because the baby’s intake is easily measured, and staff are more comfortable with what is familiar, i.e. bottle-feeding

Lee continues, “There is a genuine honesty from people who don’t understand anything about breastfeeding, ‘Why are we breastfeeding?’ ‘Why are we bothering?’”  Staff in hospitals have been educated about breastfeeding over the past few decades; staff in shelters have not.

So when she conducts trainings, she starts at the rudimentary level of ‘what are mammals?’ 

“All the worst mythology that you can imagine is in the shelter,” Lee says. “All the worst in how society treats mothers and babies gets magnified in shelters.” 

With the problem identified, Lee says she started “from scratch in a way,” looking for a written policy to support breastfeeding people.  Early on in her search, she followed up on a news story featuring a homeless mother in Hawaii. She posted inquiries on Lactnet, CDC listserv, international online forums, Facebook groups, and reached out to shelters at random wondering if they had breastfeeding policies . 

“Nothing,” Lee reports. “There is probably a shelter somewhere that has a policy, but after two years of a global search, I wasn’t able to find it.” 

In all her search,  Lee found one published document— a Canadian study looking at the factors that influence breastfeeding practices of mothers living in a maternity shelter– that could be helpful. 

Lee wrote the first draft of the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter with policies like the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and Ten Steps to Breastfeeding-Friendly Child Care in mind. 

She sent it out to colleagues at CHOP’s Homeless Health Initiative for feedback, and for quite a while, there was none. Lee’s colleague Melissa Berrios Johnson, MSW,  a social work trainer with HHI, and the convenor of its breastfeeding workgroup subcommittee, helped to make the policy reality. 

Partner agency Philadelphia Health Management Corporation (PHMC) received a grant that funded research which took the policy to four different shelters for staff and resident feedback. 

“Everyone, residents and staff alike, felt this policy was important and feasible,” Lee says. 

PHMC’s next step was to identify a shelter staff member to become a breastfeeding champion. This champion would be provided with free breastfeeding training, and receive an honorarium.

As program oversight changed though, “breastfeeding champion” became a job, with a list of responsibilities. So far, Lee says they’ve only found four people out of 10 shelters who are willing to take on the task.

“There are some folks in shelters working hard to make things better,” Lee says. “They are those champions, most of whom have breastfed themselves.”

Currently, Lee and colleagues are in the process of developing training for staff members and ironing out how to help staff implement the policy.  

Lee’s and co-authors Alexandra Ernst MPH, and Vanesa Karamanian MD, MPH landmark paper about the 10 Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Shelter has been submitted to the  Journal of Human Lactation (JHL)

At present, COVID has put all of this work on hold.