The commercial milk formula (CMF) industry uses marketing tactics similar to those of the tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food industries.
Earlier this winter, the Lancet published a three-paper series outlining the multifaceted and highly effective strategies used by commercial formula manufacturers to target parents, health-care professionals, and policy-makers.
“The industry’s dubious marketing practices—in breach of the breastfeeding Code—are compounded by lobbying of governments, often covertly via trade associations and front groups, against strengthening breastfeeding protection laws and challenging food standard regulations,” the Lancet summarizes.
In another recent publication, Pediatricians’ Reports of Interaction with Infant Formula Companies, the authors found that: “Of 200 participants, the majority reported a formula company representative visit to their clinic (85.5%) and receiving free formula samples (90%). Representatives were more likely to visit areas with higher-income patients (median = $100K versus $60K, p < 0.001). They tended to visit and sponsor meals for pediatricians at private practices and in suburban areas. Most of the reported conferences attended (64%) were formula company-sponsored.”
The authors write that “Seventy percent of countries follow the World Health Organization International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes that prohibits infant formula companies (IFC) from providing free products to health care facilities, providing gifts to health care staff, or sponsoring meetings. The United States rejects this code, which may impact breastfeeding rates in certain areas.”
The Lancet series authors provide recommendations to restrict the marketing of CMF to protect the health and wellness of mothers and babies, and ultimately society and the planet.
Curtail the power and political activities of the CMF industry
End state practices that do not uphold, or that violate, the rights of women and children
Recognise, resource, and redistribute women’s care work burdens in support of breastfeeding
Address structural deficiencies and commercial conflicts of interest in health systems
Increase public finance and correct the misalignment between private and public interests
Mobilise and resource advocacy coalitions to generate political commitment for breastfeeding
In Mexico, UNICEF and Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública have designed infographics for policymakers as well as parents and caregivers to educate on the impact of digital marketing.
The partners are also working on proposed modifications to current Mexican regulations that involve commercial formula milk and ultra processed food marketing to infants and young children. Further, development is underway for a mobile app tool for monitoring the Code in Mexico.
In other efforts to protect parents and babies, Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia released a video on how the organization monitors predatory marketing. Find it here. You can find their Facebook group here.
It has been hypothesized that starting around nine weeks of fetal development, the pattern and sequence of intrauterine movements of the fetus seem to be a survival mechanism, which is implemented by the newborn’s patterns of movement during the first hour after birth (described as the 9 stages) when skin-to-skin with the mother to facilitate breastfeeding.
Not only are human babies hardwired to progress through 9 stages and self attach to the breast, mammalian bodies are hardwired to produce milk too.
Around 16 weeks of pregnancy, the body starts to prepare for breastfeeding. This phase, called Lactogenesis I is when colostrum begins to be created. During Lactogenesis II, the secretion of copious milk follows the hormonal shift triggered by birth and the placenta delivery. After this phase, milk production must be maintained through a supply-and-demand-like system. [Neville 2001]
Even before a pregnancy is achieved, individuals are being influenced by the infant feeding culture that surrounds them, consciously or subconsciously laying a foundation for how they feel about feeding their own babies.
Pat Hoddinott’s, et al study found that women who had seen successful breastfeeding regularly and perceived this as a positive experience were more likely to initiate breastfeeding.
Exposure to prenatal breastfeeding education also affects breastfeeding outcomes. Irene M. Rosen and colleagues found that women who attended prenatal breastfeeding classes had significantly increased breastfeeding at 6 months when compared to controls.
Mode of birth and birth experiences influence infant feeding too, for both members of the dyad.
A growing body of evidence shows that birth by cesarean section is associated with early breastfeeding cessation.
Intrapartum exposure to the drugs fentanyl and synOT is associated with altered newborn infant behavior, including suckling, while in skin-to-skin contact with mother during the first hour after birth. [Brimdyr, et al 2019]
Labbok points out that a paradigm shift on the issues in the reproductive continuum – family planning, pregnancy and birthing and breastfeeding– is needed.
“These are issues that are intimately, biologically, gender linked in women’s lives, and yet ones that are generally divided up to be addressed by a variety of different professional disciplines,” Labbok begins. “Despite the impact of child spacing on birthing success, of birthing practices on breastfeeding success, and of breastfeeding on child spacing, we are offered family planning services by a gynecologist, birth attendance by an obstetrician or midwife, and baby care by a pediatrician. Having these ‘silos’ of care, each with its own paradigm and priorities, may lead to conflicting messages, and hence, may undermine the search for mutuality in goals, and collaboration.”
One such initiative looking to deconstruct siloed care is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative which includes standards and goals for birthing practices, for breastfeeding-friendly communities, and guidance for birth spacing, in addition to reconfirming the original Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, in recognition that breastfeeding occurs along a continuum.
In the U.S. context, the 1,000 Days initiative recognizes comprehensive health coverage, comprehensive guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood for women in the first 1,000 days, paid family and medical leave policy for all workers, and investments to ensure parents and caregivers can access good nutrition as solutions to a well nation and a well world.
As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, please share with us some or all of your birth stor(ies).
Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.
We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period. Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.
A medical student once told Nikki Lee, RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, RYT500 about an obstetrician who loved to pump while she was catching babies because she collected more milk than usual. Lee theorizes that perhaps it was due to the high levels of oxytocin in the atmosphere during childbirth.
It’s a fascinating concept, and quite unusual considering physicians often find themselves in a terrible paradox. As Lee puts it, they are supposed to take care of everybody else, and no one takes care of them. They’re expected to be experts on everything; as childbirth educators and lactation care providers, we often disclaim “this information is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.”
With insufficient support in their personal infant feeding goals, physicians’ struggles sometimes seem to spur advocacy and a “do-better-for-my patients” attitude. Just the same, these experiences can lead individuals to harbor resentment, despair, resignation and defeat, and might unintentionally influence the breastfeeding support they are able to offer their patients.
When physicians’ basic needs aren’t met, we can’t expect them to meet the needs of their patients. How can one pour from an empty cup? Kathleen Kendall Tackett offers Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Self Care for Members of the Perinatal Team which presents insights on the effects of little institutional support and specific strategies for integrating self-care into care for others.
Self-care is sustainable only when everyone can do it.
Before physicians are done with their decade or more of training, they are challenged by inadequate support in their efforts to feed their own children.
What’s more, a recent research letter, American Board of Medical Specialties Board Examination Lactation Accommodation, evaluates the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) member boards’ lactation-specific board examination accommodation policies highlighting that a minority of female physicians (42%) achieve the recommendation that infants receive mother’s milk at least until age one.
“Board examinations are a key aspect of medical training,” the authors begin. “With up to 22% of female trainees delivering a child during postgraduate training, and nearly 59, 000 female physicians in residency and fellowship in the US, there is a large group potentially affected by board examination lactation accommodations.”
About a decade ago, in a landmark case that has implications for all testing organizations in Massachusetts, a unanimous Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that breastfeeding mothers are entitled to special accommodations to allow them sufficient time to pump milk during lengthy testing for medical licensure. [https://www.wbur.org/news/2012/04/13/breastfeeding-doctor-ruling ]
The elephant in the room is the issue of parental leave. Honestly, it’s hard to stomach that we are still arguing that there are medical and psychosocial benefits of protected parental leave for both parents and children. The U.S. is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member country—and one of only six countries in the world—without a national paid parental leave policy. The U.S. is also one of the few high-income countries without a national family caregiving or medical leave policy. [https://bipartisanpolicy.org/explainer/paid-family-leave-across-oecd-countries/ ]
Women don’t breastfeed; societies do. The societal burden on the mother is magnified when the mother is a physician and is compelled to take care of everyone else, with no support for their own breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is blamed for being difficult, instead of us all getting furious that we don’t have paid maternity leave.
In the current U.S. healthcare system, physicians find themselves paid in Relative Value Units (RVUs), which bluntly put, is a pretty mechanical way to value providing care to other humans. In short, the more RVUs a physician racks up, the more they’re paid. Often that leaves lactating physicians forgoing pumping to spend more time with patients. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act would close the loopholes that force physicians to choose income or feeding their babies. The PUMP Act advanced out of the Senate HELP Committee with unanimous bipartisan support in May 2021 and then passed with significant bipartisan support (267-149) in the House last October. Despite this strong bipartisan support, the bill has languished in the Senate for almost a year. Get updates on progress here.
The policy reports that the Institutional Requirements of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education require training programs to provide written policies regarding leaves of absence, including parental leave, and these policies must comply with current legislation such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but that the length of leave has considerable variability among residency programs. The statement outlines the challenges of parental leave policies in training programs and gives recommendations to protect trainees and their families. One challenge is that education calendars are set long before a person enters a medical program, but labor, delivery, and the establishment of breastfeeding don’t fit into a predetermined calendar.
Despite this dismal landscape, the medical world is changing and there are stories and models to celebrate.
Catherine Wagner, a cardiothoracic surgery resident at Michigan Medicine, managed to breastfeed and pump for a year during her residency with a network of support.
Got Milk? Design and Implementation of a Lactation Support Program for Surgeons describes an initiative where “Multiple faculty members offered to offload resident workload before starting cases to provide time for a lactating resident to express milk… The University of Wisconsin adopted a ‘cross-cover’ model encouraging lactating residents to have other residents assist in the operating room during non-critical portions of the case if the primary operating resident needed to express milk that has been very well received and easily implemented.”
There’s attention being paid to lactation accommodation information in urology residency programs too.
In this study, “Of 145 urology residency programs, 72.4% included information about lactation accommodations anywhere on the institution’s website.” The authors conclude that “efforts to recruit and retain female urologists should include making [lactation accommodation] information more easily accessible.”
Authors Annery G Garcia-Marcinkiewicz andSarah S Titler call on anesthesiology as a workforce and specialty, to support the unique need of lactating and breastfeeding anesthesiologists in Lactation and Anesthesiology.
This study offers the first comprehensive scoping review of the literature on breastfeeding policies pertaining to surgical residents in Canada.
The authors write: “…We aim to use these data to advocate for breast feeding for surgical resident physicians through the creation and improvement of current breastfeeding policies as applicable. This work aims to help change surgical culture to be more inclusive, which is vital in creating a breast feeding-friendly environment. This would include leadership endorsement of the policy, a culture shift (for example, no repercussions to resident for coming back on a modified schedule or taking breaks for expressing milk), visible educational notices throughout the workplace (ie, ‘breast feeding-friendly workplace’ notices, common in Canadian public settings), and creation of a network of ‘new moms’ within the surgical resident programme to ensure there is support and mentorship for new moms returning back to work. ”
While we wait for policies to catch up to the needs of lactating physicians, wearable pumps are helping them reach their infant feeding goals. The Impact of Wearable Breast Pumps on Physicians’ Breastfeeding Experience and Success found that “those who had used a wearable pump reported statistically significant shorter lactation breaks (p < 0.00001) and were more likely to be able to provide breast milk to their infants for their entire intended duration (p = 0.005) compared to the traditional pump group.”
The support network Dr. MILK (Mothers Interested in Lactation Knowledge) has been successful at helping physicians mothers reach their infant feeding goals.
Where else are you seeing physician parents being supported in their infant feeding journeys? Email us at email@example.com
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