Thursday, April 28, 2011

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.*

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