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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pfizer works to undermine breastfeeding mums on diet and nutrition

Today I did a quick google search for 'breastfeeding vitamins' (I was looking for this link from The Funny Shaped Woman), and a sponsored Ad appeared which I had never seen before.  I usually recognise these ads, so I thought I'd take a closer look.  

I am glad I did, but it makes for some uncomfortable reading (click to enlarge).

For a while we've known that the formula companies are trying to target mothers who breastfeed - mostly with their 'follow on' formulas.  However, it seems that now pharmaceutical companies are also trying to trick breastfeeding mums by implying that without specific diet and nutrition their milk will be less good.  This site claims to have 'Everything you need to know about Breastfeeding'.  Yeah, right..

Look at this (from this page):

See how they accidentally leave off the part which recommends continued breastfeeding beyond 6 months alongside solids for as long as you want?  In fact they actually state their half-truth two times on this one page.  

This is very deliberate and absolutely typical of the way formula companies try to undermine breastfeeding - only now the vitamin companies are doing the same thing.  They even have the cheek to use the international breastfeeding symbol at the top of their page!

For the record, the NHS website says the following: 
'If you're breastfeeding, feeding only breast milk up to around 6 months will give your baby extra protection against infection. Breastfeeding beyond 6 months, alongside solid foods, will continue to protect them for as long as you carry on.'
and the World Health Organisation says:
'Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.'

Their website also lists in great detail all the things you *may want* to eat in order to breastfeed.  

The La Leche League (who, let's face it, have supported more mums to breastfeed than any formula company ever has) say this: 
'Over the years of experience with breastfeeding mothers all over the world, LLL Leaders have seen that the best diet for a breastfeeding mother is neither complicated nor expensive [...]  There is very little difference in the milk of healthy mothers and mothers who are severely malnourished'
Most women in the UK (where this website is targeted) are not severely malnourished.  Some may not have the best diets, but there's a big difference between not eating a great diet and being severely malnourished...

However, the Pfizer website says: 
'It is important to continue focusing on your diet and nutritional needs while breastfeeding to help provide your baby with the best possible start.'  
Later on it says this:
'not consuming enough calories while breastfeeding may affect the vitamins and nutrients in your milk supply.' 
Although there is evidence to show that maternal diet can affect the levels of nutrients in a mother's milk under certain circumstances,  Breastfeeding.org says this:
'Only in rare cases of long term, severe nutritional deficiency will breastmilk be affected.  Research shows that during lactation, most nutrients in breast - milk remain consistent by means of complex homeostatic mechanisms independent of maternal intake.'
And even if the maternal diet isn't great the advice from the Linkages Project (2004) states that: 
'In all but the most extreme cases, malnourished mothers can follow the same recommendations for breastfeeding as mothers who are not malnourished. These recommendations include exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by on-demand breastfeeding and the introduction of complementary foods' 
That doyenne of all things breastfeeding, Kelly Bonyata IBCLC (from Kellymom.com) says this:
'you do not need to maintain a perfect diet in order to provide quality milk for your baby. In fact, research tells us that the quality of a mother’s diet has little influence on her milk. Nature is very forgiving – mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect baby even in times of hardship and famine. [...]  Although it is certainly not recommended, a breastfeeding mother could live on a diet of junk food – mom would not thrive on that diet, but her milk would still meet her baby’s needs.'
You can read the rest of her article (and references) here.

The pharmaceutical company behind 'nutritioninpregnancy.co.uk' simply want to make breastfeeding look a whole lot harder than it is.  Of course they do - that's how they make their money :(

The role of their website is two-fold:

1/ to trick people into thinking there's no point in breastfeeding past 6 months, and  
2/ to convince mothers that they need to buy a vitamin product in order to produce 'good' milk.

Many people will see this website and believe what it says without question - Pfizer have paid Google to put it at the top of it's searches...

Healthy lactating women will be led to believe that they need unnecessary supplements in order to feed their babies.  Mums will (once again) be duped into thinking there is no point in breastfeeding beyond 6 months.  Readers of websites like this one may start to question the nutritional quality of breast milk and may mistakenly believe that a formula (which lists it's ingredient on the back) is healthier. 

And I haven't even mentioned the contents of the 'breastfeeding' section of this website - take a look for yourself here.  There isn't a single link to sources of FREE and QUALIFIED breastfeeding support available to mothers the UK (some numbers are given on the RHS of this blog).  If Pfizer truly cared about supporting mums to breastfeed they'd have included information about trusted sources of breastfeeding support.  Why haven't they?  Well it's not brain surgery now, is it...?  Of course the info isn't all bad, but it's very similar to the sort of thing you find on the formula company websites - scant and not a whole lot to go on.  Most of the problems they list could be resolved quickly with support from a breastfeeding counsellor or even a peer supporter.  However there is no mention of either of these on the website.

No wonder mums don't know where to go to get real help.

Big Pharma is getting wise to the fact that most women want to breastfeed their babies, and so they are trying to make it look like they want to help.  But who would you rather turn to for help - someone with training in breastfeeding support or a someone employed by a pharmaceutical company?

'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 skill and training in breastfeeding support.'
Some people are bound to comment under this article that a) supplements are harmless and what's the big deal if it means 'covering yourself' and b) I'm getting wound up over nothing.  So, let me save you the bother.

I don't personally care one jot if a person doesn't want to breastfeed - the last thing I ever want to do is tell anyone what to do with their own body.  However - I DO care a great deal about the thousands of mums who really want to breastfeed but are 'booby-trapped' by Big Pharma.  Is it a co-incidence that this website has started to show up in searches since Nestle recently bought Pfizer Nutrition?  Probably - Nestle have not acquired the wing of the company that produces these vitamins (Consumer Healthcare)* - but then this website isn't just about breastfeeding - it's about pregnancy too.  The thought that C21st women are constantly being told that they need help from the pharmaceutical industry in order to grow, birth and feed their babies scares me.  Many of their products and services are based on exploiting our fears.  We all want the best for our babies, but how justified are these fears? 

Please tell your friends, eat to hunger, drink to thirst, and just feed your baby.

* my thanks to Tiffany on Facebook for clarifying this


  1. GREAT post! Thank you for this! I will share on my LLL page.

  2. This is such a sad bunch of facts :( Thank you for opening our eyes to this sorry state of affairs.

    Personally I choose to take vitamins during pregnancy, but only because I have a tendency towards being anemic and dislike most foods that are naturally high in iron. However it is fair to say I don't NEED them until a blood test shows I have an iron deficiency, and even then it is MY CHOICE what goes in to my body. During breastfeeding its ok to take safe vitamins if you wish to, especially if it gives you peace of mind, but it is SO important that we understand it is NOT necessary to produce good milk for our babies.

    My mother told me that if you are lacking in something baby will get enough and only your body will lack it.

    Please help spread this article for those poor mums who are wanting to feed but don't have the confidence, and don't think they don't exist, I was one myself once.

  3. FYI- Nestle's newest marketing scheme is to sponsor city programs targeted at reducing childhood obesity! Yes, you read it right! Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ took a check for $100,000.00 and basically "sold out" the children of Newark to Nestle. For further info google my Petition "Stop Newark/Nestle Now!" on change,org. (sign it and share) Also I recently did a guest blog on Mothering.com - called "Newark Nestle Partnership: There's Nothing Sweet About It"
    Nestle's agenda needs to be exposed over and over again as they come up with new marketing schemes constantly. Informing,educating and compelling people to "SAY NO" to this corporate monster is essential - thank you for this post. Americans need to understand that Nestle just doesn't make chocolate anymore! ( I wish)

  4. i take a "pregnancy and lactation" vitamin and if i wasnt i would take a womens multi vitamin, i always have done, but its entirely for MY benefit, i know that my baby gets first dibs on the good stuff, so knowing that i dont always have the healthiest diet, i breastfed through my last pregnancy (he weaned himself when baby was born) if i get run down i get sick very quickly since having glandular fever when i finished school and since my sons birth ive been anemic, i take the vitamin to make sure that *i* get what i need to stay well.

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for the info. This is sad but true, and unfortunately a lot of times only the ones who are already interested in bfing are on the look out for booby traps.
    I agree vitamins and minerals are not necessary for bfing but very necessary to keep mother's body healthy, that is the distinction, that we in richer countries have the access to keep our own bodies strong and well fed. Babies are well fed regardless. One thing I read once when I was bfing that made me laugh was that mother needed to drink milk (another animal's) as she needed calcium etc for her own milk. I thought it was strange no one asked where cows get it from! (Calcium comes form greens)

  6. Thank you for this. Today I linked to this post from my own blog.

  7. I think you are over-reacting. Would you not recommend that women look after themselves when they are breastfeeding? Whilst it may not affect the milk, the mother's diet will affect the mother's health and how well she feels - surely the mother needs to be feeling as fit and healthy as possible in order to manage the feeding and care that the baby requires? In order to be fit and healthy a mother needs to eat well.


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