What Is the Fuss About?

When Mothercare released its latest advert to promote it’s latest range of baby products, Inno Sense, the breastfeeding forums went up in arms. Facebook was awash with comments about the advert and how disgusting it was but the question is “why?”

So why are all the people involved with breastfeeding support so upset? After all, it’s only an advert, so what is the fuss. It’s not like any of us are influenced by TV advertising in I such things. Or are we? Are we really influenced by this type of advertising?

To answer the first question as to why people are so upset requires us to go back to 1981 which saw the creation of The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitues. This is a health policy framework to promote breastfeeding and was adopted by the World Health Assembly of the World Health Organisations. It was developed as a way of protecting and promoting breastfeeding. Formula milk makes companies and share holders a LOT of money and one of their ways of being able to reach their potential customers is through advertising. According to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, the formula milk industry is worth £2 million a DAY. In response to anyone who says that advertising doesn’t work, then you just need to see what is advertised in the run up to Christmas and which toy makes the number one toy to have, to know that is just not true. Advertising is a huge revenue maker and in this country alone the formula milk companies spend at least £6 million pounds per year, yes £6milllion pounds. So to say advertising doesn’t work is just nonsense. These companies do not invest that amount of money into something that doesn’t work and its rather a lot of money to spend as a tax avoidance scheme.

To demonstrate the power of advertising: the number one best ever TV ad was for “Smash” – are you already humming the tune and saying “For mash get Smash” and remembering those little metal aliens and their laughs. That is the power of advertising. We all sit through hours of advertising in between our television programmes, we see advertising in the paper, hear it on the radio, see it on the bill boards. Adverts sell – it’s as simple as that.

In response to the declining breastfeeding numbers and also the increasing aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was born. This Code does not allow for the promotion, advertising or in any way advocating of ANY breast milk substitute. This covers formula milk, dummies, teats, bottles and weaning foods – in fact anything that is a breast milk substitute and its method of transfer. We have seen some countries adopt the whole of the Code, whilst others, such as the USA adopt none of it.

In Iran, which has adopted all of the code, formula milk is only available on prescription.

The UK adopts part of it and this can be seen in The Infant Formula and Follow-on Regulations 1995. In this Act it prevents the advertising, promotion or giving free samples of Infant Formula to the public. These are milks that are for babies under the age of 6 months This does not extend to follow on milks, the milks that are available from 6 months of age. Hence we suddenly see an array of adverts claiming to promote milk from the age of 6 months, the reality that we see is that the adverts could be aimed at any age and usually just display the brand. The other important factor is that in the UK, the government has not and will not sign up to the full Code, so this then allows companies to be unscrupulous and not abide by the Code.

This then brings us to this week and the fuss over the Mothercare ad. One of its claims is: “Everything you need to feed your baby” which is clearly and categorically untrue. Within its range there is NOT everything that you need to feed your baby. If there was, we would see breasts and breastfeeding being offered – both of which we do not. Within this range there is a token support to breastfeeding – we see nipple shields and we see cover ups for breastfeeding. So even though breastfeeding is seen to be included what message is it portraying to mums who are considering how to feed their babies? Mothercare appears to say yes to breastfeeding but then actually advocates the problems – do most mums really need nipple shields? Do mums really need cover ups for feeding? Again we see the subtle undertones of how this type of advertising actually undermines breastfeeding as opposed to supporting breastfeeding.

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