Friday, May 20, 2011

Conversations with a Formula Company

So today I was at a conference. Our booth was to promote breastfeeding, of course. We were right next to someone representing Abbott Labs. Abbott, as you may know, makes Similac.

At first, I was actually very impressed. The newest "breastfeeding bag" was displayed. For those of you who don't know, when you have a baby, and you are discharged from the hospital, you get a lovely bag from a formula company. If you are formula feeding, you get one bag; if you're breastfeeding, you get another.

The breastfeeding bag promotes breastfeeding and is full of helpful, beneficial breastfeeding stuff, right? Um, no. Traditionally, they have a supply of formula, coupons for formula, a breastfeeding guide and some breastmilk storage bags that you can use for formula when the formula you're given totally sabotages your supply.

So I was THRILLED to see that the new bag on display had NO FORMULA in it.

"Is that what you guys are giving out?" I asked the guy behind the table.

"Um, yeah. I think. I don't really handle the hospital part."

" doesn't have formula! That's like ethical."

He looked at me in utter confusion at that. Poor man. Anyways, he said, "Well, I think we're moving away from promoting in the hospitals so much." (italics mine. He didn't say that all weirdly.)

I. Was. So. Excited. As some of you know, "breastmilk bags" are the bane of the lactation consultant's existence. They contain just enough formula, as I said, to sabotage a new mom's supply. And they sit there in your cupboards, seductively calling you in the early days when you're tired and confused and unsure of yourself. And maybe it's overnight and you're scared, and not sure who to call of even if you can call anyone. So you use it. And since formula is a heavier meal (like Thanksgiving vs. a normal meal) it sits on your baby's tummy longer. So you go longer between feedings. That must mean that you didn't have enough milk, right? So you replace a couple more feedings. Before you know it, KABLAM! You have a crappy supply and you totally doubt your body. Then you're a Similac Strong Mom and they can get literally hundreds to thousands of dollars from you.


So the guy tells me, "Hey, hang on - I'll get the guy who handles the hospital stuff to answer your question."

He walks away, and I look at the bag. It has Kleenex, wipes, 10 newborn diapers, and a toy. Awesome!

The Similac rep comes up, introduces himself, and asks me what questions I have. I say, "These are your new bags?" I gesture to it.

"Oh yeah," says he.

"There's not formula in them?!?"

He here looks sheepish. "Well...they do. But there's only a two day supply, and we're really promoting breastfeeding. And I know that they say that the sample might mess up breastfeeding, but we're really not trying to do that here." He pulls out the actual bag from under the table and invites me to take a look.

It was labeled "breastfeeding" and contained: formula, the bag, coupons for diapers, a cooler bag, "breastmilk" storage bags, a sample of wipes, and information on breastfeeding.

I looked at the breastfeeding information, because I honestly wanted to see what it was like.

There were 2 pamphlets on infant feeding.
The good:
There was legitimately good information on bottlefeeding a baby. Since most people, even breastfeeding moms, eventually use a bottle, I find it HIGHLY important to know how to bottlefeed. We all have this idea about holding the baby prone and holding a bottle upside down in their mouth, but that's a terrible way to feed. You should hold your baby semi-upright and not just pour the milk down the baby's throat. And that was essentially what the pamphlet said.

There was some decent breastfeeding information. It correctly said that your baby should be pooping 3x a day by 3 days and had a decent diaper diary in there that accurately showed breastmilk poops. There was also a graphic showing that a newborn's tummy is the size of a marble and a ping pong ball on day 3. This is true, and important to know.

The bad:
Um, everything else? Lol.

First was the chart of how often to breastfeed. Here it is:

I tell people that they will be feeding their babies 8-12 times a day in the beginning. That is what you do. Babies have tiny tummies and breastmilk is the perfect food, so it is digested quickly. New babies nurse every 60-90 minutes on average. But make a mom think she's nursing more than the average, and, whoa. Well, you have a starving baby! You're not doing it right! Just c'mon and use formula. Clearly your anatomy can't make superior product properly.

Also, remember the tummy sizes we talked about? The marble and ping pong ball? The ones Similac even mentions?

You try to pour 2-3 ounces of liquid in a marble or ping pong ball and tell me how that works for you. Hint: not well. Yet, we're so shocked that kids overeat and are fat. Not at all something we're forcing on them or anything. Even if you are formula feeding, you should NOT be giving your new baby 2 ounces at a time.

Another fun gem was the "how to tell that your baby is getting enough" section. Did you know that your baby should sleep for 2 hours straight after every feeding? Let's not at all take into account the very high percentage of babies who sometimes like to nurse one side, take a fifteen or twenty minute nap, and nurse the next. Nope, they shouldn't be doing this common newborn behavior. There must be something wrong!

And then I came to the hotline. Similac's "feeding experts," billed as lactation consultants.

"Are these lactation consultants IBCLC?" I asked. Full disclosure: I knew they couldn't be. The Code of Ethics for IBCLCs says they cannot work for formula companies.

"Oh yeah."

I kept looking at the pamphlet, but I must have tipped him off in some way that I thought that that was utter bs, because he then said, "Well, Similac contracts with LifeCare and they provide certified lactation consultants that receive similar training to IBCLCs."

(The full story is that the IBCLCs that worked for LifeCare, who *does* provide legitimate breastfeeding support, said that they would absolutely NOT be working for Similac's line, so other people were given an 80 hour training course and set loose "helping" moms. IBCLCs, to even be allowed to test this year, must have 45 hours of lactation specific education and 1000 hours of breastfeeding contact hours. That doesn't even count the numerous hours of studying someone has to do to pass the IBLCE exam. So, yeah - not even close to comparable to 80 hour online courses. Also, lactation professionals have called that line and reported that the advice in incomplete or downright wrong.)


To wrap this up, I want to say that I am not anti-formula. When I needed it, I was thrilled it existed, and I've even used Similac in the past. I don't think Similac is the most unethical formula company (Nestle takes the cake there.) But I am very disappointed at the bait and switch on their table. While I don't love formula companies giving out bags, if they didn't have samples in them, I would see that as a step in the right direction. And, let's face it, Similac - you've had some godawful press recently (bug recall, the aforementioned hotline issues and the disastrous phone app.) Might be nice to do something that didn't suck, huh?

1 comment:

Summer said...

I know formula isn't the devil or anything, but all I can think of is how freaking much I DON'T WANT TO USE IT!!!!!!!!!!!