World Health Organization (WHO) Breastfeeding Code

The World Health Organization Breastfeeding Code
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF about 1.5 million babies die every year because they were not able to receive human milk. Many more millions of babies each year suffer from infectious diseases and malnutrition, never reaching a baseline level of health and development because they were artificially fed. When human milk substitutes are absolutely needed, they can be live-saving. However, more often than not an artificial baby feed industry preys on the insecurities of new mothers, and a culture full of 'booby traps' designed to make a buck off babies and hook parents into this billion dollar business of taking the place of human milk.

Because of this, the World Health Organization implemented an International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

What is the WHO Breastfeeding Code?

On May 21, 1981, the 34th World Health Assembly adopted this International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, and added it to the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution. More than 160 countries and territories, including the United States, agreed to take steps to implement the Code. An upholding of the Code, however, is a matter for the government of each country to decide, in keeping with its social and legislative framework.

The aim of the Code is to "contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breastmilk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution."

The Code (World Health Organization Publication WHO/MCH/NUT/90.1) states there will be:

• NO advertising of breastmilk substitutes to the public.

• NO free samples to mothers.

• NO promotion of products in health-care facilities.

• NO company 'mothercraft' nurses to advise mothers.

• NO gifts or personal samples to health workers.

• NO words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including pictures of infants on the products.

• Information to health workers should be scientific and factual.

• All information on artificial feeding, including the labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding [as a baseline level of health], and the costs, hazards, and risks associated with artificial feeding.

• Unsuitable products, such as condensed milk, should not be promoted for babies.

• All products should be of a high quality and take into account the climatic and storage conditions of the country where they are used.

What is occurring in the United States?

The U.S. government has formally given the WHO Code to U.S. manufactures of artificial baby feeds, along with the government's perspectives on the impact of the Code on those companies. All three major manufacturers have their own code of conduct where the marketing of infant formula is concerned, and all three have declared that they will abide by the International Code when doing business in developing countries, while reviewing their practices in industrialized countries, including the United States. However, as Gabrielle Palmer points out in her fantastic book, The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business, anything that supports a normal feeding of human babies puts the bottom dollar turn-out of these manufacturers at risk. Each one profits - in monumental ways - by undermining a new mother's belief in her ability to feed her baby.

In reality, it is very rare for a human mother to be able to grow a baby inside for 9-10 months, have a live birth, and then not be able to sustain this life outside. The female body is made to birth and breastfeed. When hormonal troubles come into play, we usually see them first impair the ability to become pregnant, stay pregnant, or birth a live baby. When all this takes place, it is scientifically uncommon to not also have the body produce the milk needed to continue to nourish this new life. It is only when we sabotage the normal birth and postpartum period, as well as mothering and breastfeeding in general, that we see problems arise for mothers and babies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a policy stating that the Academy would terminate the support it received from any company which promoted its products (infant formula) directly to the public. Unfortunately, there are other ways in which artificial feed companies find their ways into the pediatrics practices across the nation -- latching onto mothers when they are in a position of highest doubt (immediately before and after birth).

The United States laws put in place to protect the safety and sanitary condition of artificial baby feeds on the market are the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Infant Formula Act of 1980. Complaints, information on microbiological and nutrient testing, and manufacturer's audits can be found in the amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Action, International Digest of Health Legislation, 43(3):556 (1992).

A variety of groups and individuals have written articles supporting the WHO Code, and discourage people to personally or professionally associate themselves with companies that are in violation of the Code.

For these reasons and more, Peaceful Parenting ceased Google ads at as of 2011, that previously brought in funds for hosting the website, and contributing to the non-profit work of Peaceful Parenting. It forced us to become dependent solely on good-will donations from readers, but also ensures we are not participating in WHO Code breaking marketing that surfaces repeatedly online today.

Furthermore, our Breastfeeding Group is one of the only community groups for nursing moms with babies of all ages that adheres to WHO Code voluntarily. This is a group that all breastfeeding mothers and lactation consultants are welcome to join, with the understanding that we take a fundamental pro-baby stance in the group.

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