I was in my early twenties, traveling through Africa on my own. I was walking to get on a ferry, which was basically a very large raft kept afloat by prayers and habit, to cross a river. A woman about my age approached me. She had a baby on her back, and she swung him around and presented him to me. Because of the color of my skin, she expected me to have some knowledge, medication, or connections that would assist me to bring her baby back. He was almost dead. His eyes were glazed and dry. He had diarrhea, she explained. I had no idea what to say to her. I didn't know anything back then. I had never seen a dying baby before, and I hope you never will.
I don't think people fully understand the significance of the use of baby formula in countries where poverty is rampant, and clean water is impossible to find. Here in Canada, those women who bottle feed their infants may be at risk for being sneered at, and their babies may be at higher risk for allergies or obesity. But in Africa and all over the world, babies who are fed formula are at a higher risk of infection, from the moment they are born until they are at least two years old.
Unicef recommendations on breastfeeding are here, and they are worth looking at. The authors suggest that "The major problems are the societal and commercial pressure to stop breastfeeding, including aggressive marketing and promotion by formula producers. These pressures are too often worsened by inaccurate medical advice from health workers who lack proper skills and training in breastfeeding support."
Nestle is one of the major formula producers in the world and has just bought Pfizer Nutrition which markets four brands of artificial formula. Nestle actively promotes its breastmilk substitutes in Africa and elsewhere, claiming that HIV positive mothers' babies should not be breastfed. This is a subject that has seen much research and discussion over the past few years and it is by no means a conclusive claim. Infection rates can go up by over 60% after six months, so perhaps a better suggestion would be (see WHO recommendations) that babies everywhere and in every situation should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
The problem with formula feeding in poverty-stricken areas are twofold: one is the lack of clean water, refrigeration, sterilizing equipment and so on. Bottles are washed in less-than-sterile water; the powdered formula is mixed with infected water; and the remaining formula is left out and breeds bacteria. WHO guidelines on the preparation of powdered formula are very strict concerning cleanliness and refrigeration. This level of cleanliness is simply not possible in many households around the world.
Nestle has been boycotted for over forty years because of its aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes all over the world.
This is why I was shocked to see that it is sponsoring the What to Expect When You're Expecting movie premiere, and to see that these two organizations are partnering to sponsor a contest for pregnant women. The prize is a trip to Hollywood to see the WTE movie. Visit the link: Nestle Baby. If you try to enter the contest, you are told that only "Nestle Baby Program" members are allowed to enter. So you go to the Nestle Baby link. A tiny popup opens to let you know that breast is best for up to six months. Then you are met with a $100 coupon for free samples, including formula and bottles.
This is directly in contravention of the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitues, which states that: "there should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public" and that "manufacturers and distributors should not provide … to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products…" Promotion through any type of sales device, including special displays, discount coupons and special sales, is prohibited. Furthermore, no company personnel should seek direct or indirect contact with, or provide advice to, pregnant women or mothers.
I expect and encourage What to Expect to immediately sever ties with Nestle, for the sake of their own reputation, and for the sake of the health of millions of mothers and babies around the world.