When I was in school, my drama teacher told the class a story about women in Africa who’d been given Nestle formula milk samples shortly after they’d had a baby. They used the samples, believing that formula was superior to their breast milk, which led to their milk drying up. Because their milk had dried up, they were then forced to buy formula they couldn’t really afford, which led to extended gaps between feeds and preparing bottles of the formula milk excessively watered down to make it last longer. In worse case scenarios, babies died either of starvation, malnutrition from receiving inadequate proteins, fats etc (caused by watered down milk) or of improperly prepared bottles1.
Out of ignorance, and because I grew up in a pro-breastfeeding family, I assumed that these women were simply stupid for believing that their breast milk was inferior, and promptly went out and bought a KitKat.
10 years later, I’m a grown adult; sat nursing my own child I come across this image:
Unless you’ve seen this image before, it may shock you to realise that these babies are twins. The mother was told that she would not be able to sustain both babies at the breast, and so breastfed the male twin and had her grandmother bottlefeed the female.
The little girl died the day after the picture was taken.
In reality, it’s perfectly feasible to sustain two babies at the breast. It’s possible to feed three or more, even. Breast milk is produced on demand: i.e. the more a baby feeds, or the more babies feed, the more production increases and the more milk is made (except in some rare cases).
After seeing this image, I bought The Politics of Breastfeeding so that I could learn the true extent of the issues with artificial feeding in undeveloped countries. As it turns out, the women affected by the free formula samples weren’t stupid (ah, teenage ignorance)… they were misled.
Misled by Nestlé, primarily; misled by Nestlé saleswomen dressed as nurses telling new mums that Nestle artificial formula milks were the superior infant food; misled by health care professionals who were given kickbacks and bribes for encouraging mums to bottlefeed; misled by labels on cans of formula claiming “protects”, “more calcium”, “brain building blocks”, “brain nutrients” etc. Labels that you might even recognise on today’s formula milk.
Despite multiple bans on various aspects of Nestle’s marketing they continue to directly approach new mums, they continue to market their artificial milks unethically, and continue to make misleading ‘scientific’ claims about the ingredients in their milks. Babies continue to die2 because of these milks, fed because of companies like Nestle.
Believe it or not, I’ve received criticism for supporting this boycott.
It’s a woman’s right to choose to feed her child how she wishes. I totally agree. I am, and always have been, pro-choice: an advocate for woman’s autonomy. No woman should ever be forced to feed her baby a certain way. However, I believe in an educated choice. I believe that women should know both the implications and consequences of choosing to either a) breastfeed or b) formula feed based on their unique circumstances and the availability of breastmilk replacements.
If educated women think that formula and breastmilk are on par (and they do) we cannot expect women in undeveloped countries — many of whom do not have access to the array of information that we have — to be able to make that choice properly. Why? Because of the marketing of companies like Nestle.
If this entry touches you, please consider supporting Baby Milk Action: protecting breastfeeding – protecting babies fed on formula.
It’s now 2019. This blog post is over 9 years old & I’ve been boycotting Nestle products for over 10 years. Nestlé continue to push their baby milks & foods to the poorest areas via health professionals despite laws in place to stop them:
Doctors told researchers during in-depth interviews that they had received everything from free training and trips as well as powdered formula samples to promote the products, including “Nan” by Nestle and “Enfamil” by Chicago-based Mead Johnson.
[..] “It is alarming to see how much influence a doctor can have on whether women breastfeed exclusively or not,” Rothstein said. “Our research shows how effective the formula industry can be at targeting vulnerable mothers through marketing to their physicians.”
In addition to this, Nestle have been linked to deforestation of jungles and rainforests for palm oil, despite making promises to make their palm oil supply chain fully sustainable:
Nestlé, Mars and Hershey have been accused of breaking pledges to stop using “conflict palm oil” from deforested Indonesian jungles, just days before the annual Halloween confectionery frenzy.
Former Nestlé chairman and CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe stated that the idea that there is a human right to water (one of the few things actually fundamental to our survival) “extreme” and continues to make millions of dollars by bottling and selling water in economically depressed areas with few water protection laws (emphasis my own):
…it illuminates how Nestlé has come to dominate a controversial industry, spring by spring, often going into economically depressed municipalities with the promise of jobs and new infrastructure in exchange for tax breaks and access to a resource that’s scarce for millions
Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Nearly Nothing For, 22 September 2017
Nestlé has been bottling and selling water that it does not have the legal right to use, officials in California have concluded.
These are not the actions of a company that made a mistake “way back” and wants to make amends. These are the actions of a company that consciously, deliberately exploit the weakest and most vulnerable to make as much profit as they possibly can.
I continue to boycott Nestlé.
1 To prepare bottles properly you need access to clean, hot water. Hands must be washed. Bottles, teats etc must be cleaned and sterilised. Hands must be washed again. Boil clean water to prepare the formula with, letting it cool to no lower than 70 degrees C (powdered milk is not sterile, it needs to be that hot to kill the bacteria). Add the water to the bottle, then add the exact amount of formula. Cool the milk to the desired temperature by running the sealed bottle under a cold tap or by placing it in a jug of cold water. The whole process can take up to 45 minutes.
2 WHO estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.