There has been much discussion lately in the breastfeeding advocacy community concerning the behavior of breast pump manufactorer Medela and whether Medela is in violation of the World Health Organization Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Understanding how Medela is violating the Code takes some sophistication and explaining. It isn’t as obvious as formula manufacturers giving free samples to women who have only contaminated water with which to prepare a product that stands a significant chance of killing their new babies. Medela is marketing bottles – bottles free of leaching plastics – so how is that something for which the company should be sanctioned?
Go over to Hoyden About Town, an Australian blog, and read Medela Bites its Thumb at the WHO Code. Everything you ever needed to know about how the Code works, how Medela’s current marketing violates the Code, how and why that is a very bad thing, and footnotes. Some of the blog entry has information about Code compliance in Australia which a non-Australian might be tempted to skip. I encourage you to read it anyway because every country has responded to the Code in ways that may or may not be analogous to Australia and reading about Code violation there helps put other Code violation into context. Trust me.
After you read Hoyden About Town, take a good look at Medela’s latest public statement on its own behavior. Medela openly admits that it is currently violating the WHO Code:
these activities bring Medela in a conflict with the current interpretation of the WHO Code with regard to the marketing of bottles and teats ["nipples" for those of us who speak American].
but, hey, Medela says that is okay because:
After a careful evaluation we believe our actions continue to support the WHO Code’s intent to support breastfeeding and oppose breastmilk substitutes. However, we recognize and sincerely regret that our actions may be considered as a WHO Code violation.
So, in one statement, Medela admits it is violating the WHO Code, claims to be supporting the intent of the Code, and regrets its “actions may be considered as a WHO Code violation.” Excuse me? Clearly the translation is “Medela has decided to make more money marketing bottles so we don’t care about the WHO Code.”
Medela needs to hear that its customers do indeed care about the WHO Code. La Leche League International and the International Lactation Consultant Association have both pledged to stop doing business with Medela (and for LLLI that means refusing grants). Hoyden About Town has suggestions for alternative Code compliant products. Profits more important than childrens’ lives? Then we can do without Medela.