What You Need to Know About Formula Advertising: Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes Can Undermine Breastfeeding

When your free samples of baby formula show up at your door during pregnancy, you can be certain that you are already a part of the slick marketing strategies of infant formula manufacturers today. These companies know that you are likely to turn more quickly to formula to feed your baby when breastfeeding challenges occur in the first few weeks of your baby's life if you have samples handy.

Mailing free samples to your home is only one way that formula manufacturers use to sell their products. There has been so much concern about not only the strategies used by formula companies but also potentially misleading unsuspecting consumers that in 1981the World Health Organization (WHO) came up with a list of guidelines that formula companies are required to follow. However violations of these guidelines continue even more than 20 years later.

Here are just a few of the many requirements listed in the WHO Code for Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes that are often violated by formula companies.

Formula companies are required to state the benefits and superiority of breastfeeding.

Research continues to show that breast milk is the hands-down choice in terms of nutrition and health care benefits for both baby and mother. If a formula company does not indicate in their advertising or product labeling that formula is not as beneficial as breast milk, it is considered to be a violation of the WHO code.


Manufacturers are prohibited from distributing free samples of breast milk substitutes to women either directly (mailed to their home) or indirectly (through another party such as the local hospital.)

Parents mistakenly believe that the free case of formula shipped to them is a result of the generosity of the manufacturers. In fact, distributing free formula samples is not only a marketing strategy but it undermines breastfeeding success. For that reason, the mailing of free formula samples is considered to be a violation of the WHO code.

Information provided by formula manufacturers should not imply that breast milk substitutes are equivalent or superior to breast milk.

One leading manufacturer promotes a special brand of formula on their website claiming that is designed for preterm babies. It states that babies who were fed this brand of formula containing fatty acid supplements were able to "catch up" in their growth pattern in a similar rate to that of breastfed infants.

The truth is that the researchers who conducted this study state "although the evidence for the potential benefits of fatty acid supplementation is promising, it is not yet conclusive."

One of the many reasons for why breast milk is far superior to cow's milk is that it contains 30% casein and 70% whey protein, whereas cow's milk contains 82% casein. Whey protein is more suitable for the preterm baby since it is digested more readily. Breast milk also increases the absorption of fat and its unique blend of fatty acids promote baby's growth and development.

So, in other words, the preterm baby will grow and develop far better with breast milk than with any brand or type of infant formula.

Formula manufacturers are not permitted to advertise or display images of their products in health care facilities.

This can easily be verified if you see any advertisements for formula in your care provider's offices, local health clinic, birth center or hospital. If you do see any images of formula in these locations, please mention to the staff that this advertising is indeed a WHO code violation.