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WHO Code–Who cares?

Now just hear me out…

Raise your hand if you know what the WHO Code is.

Yea that’s what I thought. Many of you don’t. But it’s ok. I didn’t either. But why would I? I try to educate myself about many things but no matter how much research I do, I’m never going to know everything, nor will I claim to.

Most of the new things I decide to delve into and learn about are because of someone I meet, or a conversation I get into or whatnot. So I first heard about the World Health Organization (or WHO) and their stance on breastfeeding when I was watching Shari Crisos Simply Breastfeeding DVD. World Health Organization–Which to me sounds like the CDC or the AAP or whatever other organization that is in charge of regulating and informing the public on their expertise. To my knowledge, there’s no official enforcement for violating the Code. Though from my understanding, the La Leche League won’t accept money from Code violators, and many Code supporters boycott violators.

Personally, I don’t see any of these organizations as an all-being higher power I must obey, I see their recommendations as just that–Recommendations.

So when Bravado announced they were acquired by Medela, and WHO code supporters got all upset debating whether or not they should still buy/sell Bravado bras, or support Bravado at all, I scratched my head a little. Maybe I’m a little naive, but it seems like some companies which wear the scarlet letter “VIOLATOR” aren’t really that bad.

I know this is old news but I’m still trying to find out why people would stop supporting Bravado which is obviously a company that supports breastfeeding. Why would anyone else want to buy nursing bras? Their business depends on women breastfeeding. Are people worried about the company changing their values?

I’m not going to pretend to be a WHO Code expert because I’m not, but I have read it, (you can too here) and I do know companies are considered WHO code violators for things like giving away free formula (and I get that). Or for advertising the sale of bottles (but I don’t get that). Or by being owned by a company that markets the sale of bottles–like Bravado being owned by Medela.

As a full time working mother and first generation breastfeeder I just wanted to SURVIVE breastfeeding. I wanted to last three months, my maternity leave, and pump enough to last a few more months when I went back to work. Reading these debates from breastfeeding advocates made me question my own position on the matter. So I did more research.

From my understanding Medela is one of the most popular brand of breast pumps out there, if not the most popular. I don’t have one, but it seems like everyone else I know who pumps, does. But why are they considered WHO Code violators exactly?

I read this blog article, which was very detailed about Medela, and how they’re “continually thumbed their nose at the WHO Code” and how they “…even have a statement on their website acknowledging their violation of the Code and taking the position that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

She says they’re violating the Code by the way they market their bottles and nipples.

Luckily she left a link to the statement, and I followed it, downloaded it and read it myself and you can too. Long story short, Medela claims to market their bottles because they were getting 100 calls/emails a day after the “2008 BPA scare” with moms asking if their bottles carried BPA. They claim by marketing their products a BPA free more women would be able to buy their products with confidence saying: “We believe it is our obligation to inform mothers that our breast pump systems, including bottles and teats, are safe. Many mothers are not aware that Medela offers a complete breastmilk feeding system, as we have not marketed this information in the past.”

They go on to say they’ve never declared themselves as WHO Code violators and that they believe they support the intent of the Code.

Do you buy that? Well, I think every mother can decide for herself.

Now my question is should Code supporters fight fire with fire? Counter-advertise specific breastfeeding products? Go all political crazy on them and do a smear campaign on formula? But where do you get the funding for such a movement? Or could they amend the WHO Code a little, join together with companies that claim to be supporting breastfeeding, use their money, and work together to promote breastfeeding benefits while crushing the formula companies trying to discourage them?

As for me, I’m not trying to say “eff the WHO Code,” or anything of that sort, because I know it serves a huge, huge world purpose to encourage mothers everywhere to breastfeed their babies. Supporters are doing their part to knock down formula companies, their heavy push to advertise to mothers who don’t know any better and support companies that help breastfeeding moms.

All I’m trying to say is there are other companies who may not exactly be WHO Code compliant, but they are still doing a gosh darn good job of getting people like me to start, and continue to breastfeed.

Do you know what the number one reason I wanted to breastfeed was? Money.

I knew formula would cost me and my family hundreds of dollars a month and I didn’t want to pay it. Some may be smug reading that fact, but you know what? It got me started. It committed me to trying.

Then I got hired as a writer for Bravado Designs. An awesome organization priding itself in the support of breastfeeding moms. This gig got me connected with a lactation consultant (my editor in chief) and gave me a built-in community cheering me on in my journey. Weekly I had to reevaluate why I was doing this, while learning more benefits, in addition to savings.

Before having my daughter I lobbied like crazy in a belly photo contest and won an Avent Double Electric Pump, and a Simplisse manual pump I use on occasion. These two babies are the main reasons my baby has been breastfeed as long as she has.–Not to discredit my extreme determination.

So Avent advertises their bottles are BPA free, and has some buy-one-get-one deals. Big woop. The milk had to go somewhere right? I wonder if their marketing for selling bottles to go with a breast pump is getting more women to pump and breastfeed, or discouraging more women from doing that? I can only speak for myself.

I’m sure there are other, and even better ways you can sell your product without having to market your bottles, or become Code violators, but let’s just think about this for a second–Is the average every day woman who’s looking for a breast pump familiar with such a code and up to date on the controversy? I don’t think so. I think she’s just trying to find a place to express her milk and trying to find one that’s safe for her baby. If they don’t advertise to her who will? We know the formula companies will.

When my breast pump broke several months ago I called Avent and told them how I work full time and needed this to pump milk for my baby. They didn’t ask for my warranty information, or if I had done something to it. They sent me a replacement right away, no questions asked. They may not be up to the World Health Organization’s standards but they’ve exceeded my expectations.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a staunch advocate for breastfeeding that I’m not more upset about this merger. Or maybe it’s because I don’t know the full back story, or the extent to how Medela or other companies my be harming mother and babies. I don’t know. But I’m not convinced this is the big deal many is making it seem (but I’m open minded to hear if I’m missing something).

I don’t think I have a definite stance one way or another. I think more people should know about the World Health Organization and the good they’re trying to do. I think every mom can read the code, see the ads by formula, pump, and bottle companies and decide for themselves what they think about it.
I do think it’s important to stand behind an organization that’s trying to regulate good products to get more women to breastfeed, but I also think it’s important to stand behind other organizations that are trying to help women breastfeed, period. Does it matter what brand?

And if there’s some underground movement Medela and other WHO Code violators have to get women to stop breastfeeding please tell me, and I’ll see where you’re coming from.

**Update** Someone on Twitter linked me to this excellent article about why Medela is considered a WHO Code violator. She states her opinion on why she thinks it’s wrong but overall it seems very fair.*


Erin says:

I had never even heard of this controversy before reading your post, but I want to stand up for Medela. If it wasn’t for Medela, my baby wouldn’t have received any breast milk. He was born with a cleft palate (and some other stuff), so couldn’t nurse at all. I exclusively pumped for him for 4 months, using a Medela In-Style Advanced Pump and the Medela Storage system. He uses a special Medela nipple called the Haberman nipple, and if it wasn’t for this bottle, he would be receiving all of his food through a feeding tube (rather than just some of it). Now he is 6 months and exclusively formula fed, but if it wasnt for Medela then he wouldnt have had ANY breast milk and he would have really struggled to eat ANY food by mouth. I dont know why WHO is hating on Medela, but I think they’re great.

Rania says:

i don’t get all the controversy to tell you the truth.

I am another (soon-to-be) mother that has never heard of this controversy. I must say I am interested in finding out more. (I may be just a little bit of a conspiracy theorist thanks to my Glenn Beck serving mother who thinks everyone has an ulterior motive) ((LOL))

Marcy says:

There’s a difference between advetising to dispel myths or misconceptions about your bottles (many would still see that as a violation, but that’s kind of a grey area in my opinion). However, when Medela goes out and advertises their bottles and nipples as being equivalent to breastfeeding (as with their Calma nipple: http://justwestofcrunchy.com/2011/02/12/medela-calma-nipple-marketing-that-undermines-moms/ ) I have a problem with that. I’ve seen many moms who have some trouble breastfeeding, so they decide to instead “just pump” and bottle-feed. It seems easier at first… until it becomes such a huge hassle to do full-time that after a few months they just switch to formula anyway. Instead, if they’d had more encouragement and resources, they might have figured out breastfeeding after all.

I have a Medela hand pump, and I know Medela helps many mothers with breastfeeding. But it’d be nice if they followed in Ameda, Hygeia, etc’s footsteps and did so without also potentially harming breastfeeding relationships by making false claims in their advertising.

I don’t know what to say about Bravado. I understand people feeling so strongly about Medela that they wouldn’t want to support them in *any* way. I also think it’s reasonable to continue supporting Bravado even if they’re owned by a company you disagree with.

Emmy says:

Okay and as a mother of a premature baby I had to pump and use bottles as at first that was the only way to get my son fed-so if WHO is mad at M because they are trying to sell their bottles then I am going to say it screw WHO. I pumped and used bottles so my son could live so that I later could breastfeed him.

I get upset when companies market products as being the same as breastmilk, or mother’s breast. It’s just not true! I am not against women pumping and feeding their babies breastmilk through the bottle. What a lot of people don’ understand is that before you start to pump it’s best to establish a healthy milk supply. I used a breast pump with my first, and I have one here in the house but have never used it again.
I know not every woman can stay home to nurse her baby from the breast. I personally don’t care what pump or bra someone is using. I just want mothers to breastfeed, and especially more mothers of color.

Rachel says:

It is ridiculous to say that Medela does not support breast-feeding. My second child was preemie and I had to live in the hospital for 3 weeks until I could take her home. Medela is the only product line that the two hospitals baby were in would use for breastfeeding. The hospital grade pumps were standard fare in every room. If anything, it was the nurses who seemed to promote formula over breastfeeding, than the Medela company.

Jenna says:

Wow, that was enlightening. How strange. I have only ever known of Medela as a breastfeeding supplies company. I own a handheld pump, an electric pump and breastmilk storage bags manufactured by the company. I find it abhorrent that a company which mainly manufactures breastfeeding products has been branded as anti-breastfeeding because of a few bottles and nipples. It’s ri-damn-diculous.

And I agree with you — for a lot of women, pumping is the only way their child can get breastmilk. Not sure why breastpumps and the bottles they utilize are ANTI-breastfeeding. I see them as a wise measure to promote breastfeeding, not discourage it. Furthermore, how are pumping moms supposed to feed their kids expressed milk? I really don’t get it.

This extremely divisive “with us or against us” attitude has GOT to stop! It only makes people feel bad for no reason. Formula is not evil. For some people, it’s the only way to feed a baby. Yes, it’s expensive, yes, it’s inferior to breastmilk, but it is NOT KILLING PEOPLE. Quite the opposite — it’s keeping babies alive. The members of WHO should be forced to care for orphaned babies, or babies with severe allergies and intolerances for six months. They will have no CHOICE but to use formula.

Thank you for posting the link to my article at the bottom of your post.

In your post, you said: “Maybe I’m a little naive, but it seems like some companies which wear the scarlet letter “VIOLATOR” aren’t really that bad.”

My response to that is that maybe I’m a little naive, but it seems like it wouldn’t be all that hard for companies like that to stop those practices and adhere to the Code.

If we make exceptions for some companies because we like them and they support breastfeeding it creates a slippery slope where formula companies and other more egregious violators of the Code will say “but if it is okay for them to do it, then it must be okay for us too…”.

Annie, thanks for your response! I don’t know if you’ll see this but the thing I wonder is who is left advertising if all of those helping breastfeeding arent? Just formula companies! And of course they don’t mind saying it’s equal or better.

Wouldn’t it help more women breastfeed if they advertised how it can assist in breastfeeding?

It wouldn’t be violation if they said “Breatfeeding is best BUT here is a way to bottle feed when you’re away,” would it? Not in my interpretation of the code. If it’s clearly stated it’s inferiority to nursing it’s ok right? Maybe I read that wrong.

I suppose that would be a great way for the big pump companies and the WHO to meet half way.

I also didn’t know about the big WHO thing until this post. I did go over a bunch of the links you had and was shocked by a lot of it. I am the mom of three little ones and all of my babies have had at least some nursing but I have never been able to solely nurse any of them. When I have tried my children get put in the failure to thrive boat (my 3rd baby was still 7 oz BELOW her birth weight at 3 weeks old) I’m glad that there is the option of formula and bottles so that my children can grow. I don’t see how a company that is making items designed for breastfeeding could be against it. If they didn’t have bottles how would you feed the pumped milk to a baby? It would have been nice to have been told about banked milk when I had to turn to supplementing my babies and if it was at a comparable price to formula. I really wish the most that there wasn’t so much devision when it came to feeding our babies! I feel like there is a battle going on and I’m always being forced to take a side of breast vrs formula. This is just crazy! We need to support each other as mothers for what ever choice we make when it comes to feeding our babies. My position on it is that a healthy and happy baby and mom are best! I think where we really need to take a stand is about the open vrs closed pump systems. I don’t know why any pump that could pump milk back into the motor and mold is aloud to be sold at all! That is where I will take a stand when I look into getting an electric pump!

I’m really confused on the whole WHO code stuff too.

I was told on Twitter last year by someone in charge of #bfcafe that I was a WHO code violator just because I had a giveaway for a bottle. Thing is though, I was using that bottle to pump my milk into!!

Susan says:

Proud to be a WHO violator! Didn’t breastfeed my kid!!! It seems like breastfeeding moms will create drama whenever they can. If you pump, you have to put the breastmilk in something. Medela is providing bottles for that.

Before anyone goes nuts at my comment about being proud. Know that I don’t have my breasts because of breast cancer.

Moms making other moms feel badly because of their choices says awful things about women.

Marcy says:

I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the WHO code and its intent.

The WHO has no problem with the making and selling of breastpumps and bottles. Those are supplies that many women need in order to breastfeed. The issue is with *advertising* these bottles, and especially when companies make claims about how a bottle “mimics breastfeeding” when no bottle can or ever will be able to.

There is no need to advertise bottles or pumps. Everyone knows what bottles do. Everyone knows what breastpumps are. You can rent/use ones in the hospital if needed, and if you need to buy one you can go to your nearest Babies R Us, Target, etc store and compare models. Many other, thriving companies sell pumps and baby bottles without needing to violate the code, so why does Medela feel they have to break it?

So, again– the problem with Medela is NOT that they make and sell bottles. It’s how they market them to moms, often making false and misleading claims.

jennie w. says:

With all the problems in the world are there really people who care about companies conforming to some silly code? I mean, you say so but I can’t believe that there are people who aren’t more concerned about child abuse or forced prostitution or the lack of clean drinking water in the world. Instead they are worried about marketing of bottles?

That’s like a lady whose house is burning down and she’s worried about weeding the backyard.

Sarah says:

I’ve read about this debate before and I have to say I totally agree with you about the “who cares” part. The WHO code is just that a code. It was mostly created for third world countries because formula companies were making their products available and advertising to those moms. In third world countries you are one of the “cool kids” if you use formula because you can afford it. In the US I see this as a non issue. We all have the ability to think for ourselves and make a decision for our family if we will breastfeed or use formula. I would hope that those who are able to breastfeed would (I will be one of them) and that those who choose not to I don’t have any right to judge them. I could care less if Medela is advertising bottles. I see advertisements for other products all the time and they don’t sway me to purchase their products I make my own informed decisions about what I will purchase and I think that is my right but how will I know what to buy if I can’t read about the products or ask others their honest opinions?

Jennifer says:

I’ve heard of WHO, but wasn’t aware of the “code.” I read through bits and pieces… here’s my opinion…

WHO cares if Medela is promoting their bottles. I’m a working/nursing Mom. I have a Medela pump that has allowed me to breastfeed two children. When I had my first I figured I would try bfing and see how it went. I, like you, started and kept going. She nursed for 15-16 months until she self weaned. My son is 11 months old and we are still going strong. If I could stay home with my kids and nurse at home and never ever have to use the pump, I would SO do that. I doubt any one likes to pump. Having access to a nice pump gives many women to opportunity to continue nursing.

I had a Medela hand pump that I got from the hospital and a piece was cracked on it. Medela replaced the piece no problem…great customer service. Medela was BPA free way before BPA was known to be a problem.

There are tons of bottles out there. Breastfed and formula fed babies use them. I know several women who pump while at work and feed…they all use different brands of bottles. Why should a primarily breastfeeding products company not have the advantage of advertising? I think they should get more publicity. Maybe a formula feeding mother (which I’m not against in anyway) may use the bottles and then get more info on bfing because of the brand and maybe become a nursing mom in the future. Economy is tough each company needs all the help they can get.

Seeing a bottle marketed a certain way does not influence me in whether I’m going to breastfeed or formula feed.

Winnie says:

I have a 5 year old daughter and a 4 month old son. I was pregnant with my daughter I was determined that I would be the perfect breastfeeding mother. I went to breastfeeding classes and read books and assumed that I’d be breastfeeding without difficulty. Then she was born and I struggled with low milk supply and had to top her up with formula. I was devastated – I felt like a failure and I was (somewhat irrationally) terrified that my daughter would be disadvantaged by her less that perfect diet!

Seriously. The pressure on women to be breastfeeding martyrs is ridiculous. I breastfed my daughter for 6 months and topped up with formula and she is bright, healthy and happy. She is not obese, nor did she suffer ear infections or gastro because she received formula. I am currently breastfeeding my son, but I now realise that breastfeeding is an incredibly SMALL part of the parenting journey and not that big of a deal in the long run. If breastfeeding works for you – great. If not, in first world countries with access to clean water and good quality formula, breast milk is not some kind of magic potion that will prevent your child from ever getting sick or overweight.

WHO carrying on about some company not pushing breastfeeding in the appropriate way is a waste of time and money if you ask me. Haven’t they got other issues to worry about – like promoting the importance of high quality and accessible public healthcare for everyone, for example?!

Erin Marie says:

I have a question. What’s wrong with giving away bottles? When my daughter was using bottles, I always ran out (because I suck at doing dishes). And then you take them with you when you go somewhere and you lose them (like we did a sippy cup last night)… so moms need plenty of bottles. Why not give them away?

I know this is one of the lesser things mentioned in the (new to me) controversy, but it’s the one thing that stuck out. I like giveaways. And a mom of a baby can never have too many bottles.

As far as advertising their bottles, why not? Sure, I get disagreeing with them saying it’s like breastfeeding (but I raise an eyebrow at anything that says it’s like breastfeeding because I’ve never felt a nipple that felt like my breast), but why not advertise their bottles. As much as you promote breastfeeding, there will be some babies that are formula fed, whether for health reasons or personal reasons (which are also completely valid, IMO), and those babies (and moms) will have need of bottles. The only bottles I can name offhand are Gerber and Dr Browns. And the cheap-o ones from Walmart. Dr Browns are the only ones I remember seeing advertising for. It’s a business. They want to sell things. They want to make money. I say, advertise away. Bottles, pumps, whatever.

Kira =] says:

I am a huge breastfeeding advocate and I had no clue about Medela and WHO code violation. My baby is 3 though and she weaned at 14 months. So I have been out of the loop. My biggest beef is with formula companies and even pediatricians (even mine) that give you formula samples while still in the hospital even though I declared I was breastfeeding only (and i had been successful with the first 2).

I LOVE Bravado nursing bras. The supreme was life changing for big boobs. I’ve tried ALL brands that make a bra in G cup and Bravado Supreme was the cream of the crop!

Formula companies spend SOOO much money on advertising, Breastfeeding companies have no choice but to marker their wares as well. The convenience of pumping is what helps so many moms make the choice to at least try nursing. WIC offices give out FREE Medela pumps to moms to help with breastfeeding. And when it comes to that income level (I hate to say this & I know it’s not exclusive to this group)- BRAND matters. And majority of these families aren’t educated at ALL about breastfeeding, just what they see in the stores and on commercials.

WIC is still the largest purchaser of formula is the nation, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

Mrs. K says:

There will be controversy around anything. Women should choose what works best for them and their families. We shouldn’t judge others by the choices they make, even if we may not agree. Some of this bantering is so crazy to me. LOL

Kira =] says:

I am a huge breastfeeding advocate and I had no clue about Medela and WHO code violation. My baby is 3 though and she weaned at 14 months. So I have been out of the loop. My biggest beef is with formula companies and even pediatricians (even mine) that give you formula samples while still in the hospital even though I declared I was breastfeeding only (and i had been successful with the first 2).

I LOVE Bravado nursing bras. The supreme was life changing for big boobs. I’ve tried ALL brands that make a bra in G cup and Bravado Supreme was the cream of the crop!

Formula companies spend SOOO much money on advertising, Breastfeeding companies have no choice but to marker their wares as well. The convenience of pumping is what helps so many moms make the choice to at least try nursing. WIC offices give out FREE Medela pumps to moms to help with breastfeeding. And when it comes to that income level (I hate to say this & I know it’s not exclusive to this group)- BRAND matters. And majority of these families aren’t educated at ALL about breastfeeding, just what they see in the stores and on commercials.

WIC is still the largest purchaser of formula is the nation, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

I also didn’t know about the big WHO thing until this post. I did go over a bunch of the links you had and was shocked by a lot of it. I am the mom of three little ones and all of my babies have had at least some nursing but I have never been able to solely nurse any of them. When I have tried my children get put in the failure to thrive boat (my 3rd baby was still 7 oz BELOW her birth weight at 3 weeks old) I’m glad that there is the option of formula and bottles so that my children can grow. I don’t see how a company that is making items designed for breastfeeding could be against it. If they didn’t have bottles how would you feed the pumped milk to a baby? It would have been nice to have been told about banked milk when I had to turn to supplementing my babies and if it was at a comparable price to formula. I really wish the most that there wasn’t so much devision when it came to feeding our babies! I feel like there is a battle going on and I’m always being forced to take a side of breast vrs formula. This is just crazy! We need to support each other as mothers for what ever choice we make when it comes to feeding our babies. My position on it is that a healthy and happy baby and mom are best! I think where we really need to take a stand is about the open vrs closed pump systems. I don’t know why any pump that could pump milk back into the motor and mold is aloud to be sold at all! That is where I will take a stand when I look into getting an electric pump!

I get upset when companies market products as being the same as breastmilk, or mother’s breast. It’s just not true! I am not against women pumping and feeding their babies breastmilk through the bottle. What a lot of people don’ understand is that before you start to pump it’s best to establish a healthy milk supply. I used a breast pump with my first, and I have one here in the house but have never used it again.
I know not every woman can stay home to nurse her baby from the breast. I personally don’t care what pump or bra someone is using. I just want mothers to breastfeed, and especially more mothers of color.

I am another (soon-to-be) mother that has never heard of this controversy. I must say I am interested in finding out more. (I may be just a little bit of a conspiracy theorist thanks to my Glenn Beck serving mother who thinks everyone has an ulterior motive) ((LOL))

Ali Peterson says:

I have just recently (today) become aware of this controversy and stumbled onto your blog because of it. I will openly admit that I do NOT understand this issue in it’s entirety. I am a huge breastfeeding advocate. I have not yet had the opportunity to use any Medela products but have heard wonderful things about them. I think that any company who is promoting breastfeeding is doing a wonderful thing. But, I am concerned about some of the marketing that is happening with Medela, a self proclaimed breastfeeding supporter. I was able to view an advertisement for their pump (you can too here http://hoydenabouttown.com//20090310.4062/medela-bites-its-thumb-at-the-who-code/ scroll to the second video). I am troubled by a few parts of their advertisement, they claim that breastfeeding is good for baby (which I obviously believe it is), but that pumping is better for both mom and baby. That is absolutely false. While I do not criticize anyone who pumps and feeds breast milk via bottle feeding at the breast and feeding from a bottle are completely different and they do not necessarily provide the same benefits. My other issue with this advertisement is that breastfeeding itself is a minuscule portion of the advertisement and then their “wonderful” bottles are the rest. Rather than focusing on the use of a breast pump to supplement breastfeeding they focus on the bottles. It’s advertisements like these that cause them to be in violation of the WHO code. They really weren’t advertising their pump they were advertising their bottles which is a violation of the code.

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Hi! I’m Jennifer Borget

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I'm a former journalist, and lifelong creator striving to make the world a better place. This is the space where I share my journey in making the most of every day by cherishing our individuality and celebrating our differences.



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