Yellow Alert: When Breastfeeding Businesses Behave Badly

It’s not just formula companies who behave unethically. Sometimes a company who on the surface looks like an ardent breastfeeding supporter can also be known for some pretty dubious marketing behaviour. One of those companies, probably the most famous one, is Medela.

Parents express milk for lots of reasons, many of them will say pumping is absolutely essential to support their breastfeeding relationship and I totally get that. I support parents to exclusively pump or mix pumping/breastfeeding on a regular basis. Lots of us have bought a Medela pump, myself included and so critcising them can feel like a criticism of our choice, especially if we believe using that product saved breastfeeding for us.

Now, some infant feeding training down the line, I wish I’d never bought the round yellow pump everyone loves because:

  • The pump that I chose was an open, single use system so I shouldn’t sell it on.
  • For around the same money I spent on an open system pump, I could have bought a code compliant, closed system double pump.
  • Last but not least, Medela are a WHO code violator so ethically it now makes me feel a bit icky owning one.

Medela being a code-violating company often elicits shock from a community who assumes they promote and protect breastfeeding. Many people, including breastfeeding advocates defend them to the hilt. They make great products! They do lots of research! Surely they aren’t so bad? So why is it that they aren’t the ethical company people think they are?

I’m going to focus on the one area which crops up in my support group on a regular basis. The Calma teat. Medela’s marketing practices around this device have been criticised for years for being code violating and misleading. The below screenshots have been taken from Medela UK website on the 16-05-19. Note multiple claims which break the WHO code of marketing such as “Calma- close to breastfeeding” and “does not interfere with breastfeeding”.

Screenshots taken from Medela UK website

There are many breastfeeding specialists worldwide who dispute this claim including Jack Newman (you can read one of his summaries here). Interestingly I recently found a couple of studies (see screenshots and links below) which show that while marketed as mimicking breastflow, the Calma teat has a comparatively fast flow rate compared to other slow flow teats. Anecdotally, I have myself worked with families who have suffered bottle/flow preferences after using the Calma teat and what makes it worse it usually the family in question believed that buying this expensive system would protect them from this happening. This means folks don’t use techniques such as paced bottle feeding or they give lots and lots of bottles believing it won’t make a difference to their breastfeeding relationship. Sadly, in my experience, sometimes this is just not true.

More study details here:

https://www.michiganspeechhearing.org/docs/Appendix_C.pdf

http://feedingflock.web.unc.edu/files/2014/02/Pados_SNRS_Final1.pdf (Source for right hand image below).

https://www.drbrownsbaby.com/medical/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DBM-MilkFlowRates-Dayton-Article.pdf (Source for left hand image below).

Medela could be code compliant. They could even sell bottles and be code compliant. I’ve no objection to them being a profitable company or selling matching yellow bottles with Medela on them. I do object to them being sold with statements like “It does not interfere with breastfeeding”, “lets your baby feed the way they learned at the breast”, “makes switching from breast to Calma and back easy” and “Calma- close to breastfeeding”.

I’ve focused on one aspect of their activity here, however, there have been many other incidences of Medela undermining breastfeeding. You can read Baby Milk Action’s summary of their activity here and here you can read about how Medela were removed as a sponsor of an infant feeding conference for WHO code violations.

Just because a company sells products which you think help breastfeeding mothers, doesn’t mean they automatically earn an ethical “white hat” or deserve a free pass. We need to demand better because when families and babies want to pump and feed their milk through another method, they also deserve evidence based and accurate information.

Bottle feeding the breastfed baby- resources

Great article on bottle types for breastfed babies by Rachel O’Brien IBCLC

Best bottle for a breastfed baby? By Philippa Pearson-Glaze

Unicef- responsive bottle feeding

A lactation consultants guide to bottle feeding by Lyndsay Hookaway IBCLC

Video demo of paced bottle feeding by the Breastfeeding Resource Centre

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One thought on “Yellow Alert: When Breastfeeding Businesses Behave Badly

  1. This particular company has a Facebook group for professionals and when many of us spoke out about a completely false claim made in an advert that had gone to print, they attempted to defend it, despite tens of Lactation professionals explaining why it was not only misleading, it was a complete lie. Eventually they backed down- however this same advert went to print after this to the lay public, complete with the false assertion that without their product, exclusive pumping would be impossible to establish or maintain which is complete mulch. Humans have reproduced and fed their children fro centuries before plastic was invented and companies tried to exploit parents for profit.

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