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  • A new study found that certain formula companies are trying to dissuade new parents from breastfeeding by relaying misinformation about the realities of breastfeeding.
  • There are numerous reasons why a parent chooses to breastfeed versus formula feed, but as with most consumer norms and attitudes, marketing can play a substantial role.
  • Researchers found that the messaging on five manufacturers of infant formulas used language that discouraged breastfeeding on their website.

The decision over whether to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal and individual decision left up to every family.

But a new study suggests that certain formula companies are trying to dissuade new parents from breastfeeding by relaying misinformation about the realities of breastfeeding.

Experts say that when it comes to nourishing your newborn, there’s no one-size-fits-all model and parents should never be made to feel like whatever path they choose is the incorrect one.

“There are many women who can’t breastfeed for various medical reasons, so they do need to rely on formula,” said Dr. Jennifer Wu, OB-GYN at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “While we think breastfeeding is best, some women have a difficult time breastfeeding and every baby needs an individualized approach.”

The study, led by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health, compared information and portrayals of breastfeeding with infant formula feeding on manufacturer websites.

There are numerous reasons why a parent chooses breastfeeding or formula, but as with most consumer norms and attitudes, marketing can play a substantial role.

The researchers looked at five different formula companies: three major brands and two organic ones. What they found is that the messaging on the manufacturers’ websites used language that discouraged breastfeeding.

For each of the five websites, the researchers identified all the webpages related to feeding an infant with breast milk or formula through text, image, or both. They also looked at messages and participating practices that could discourage breastfeeding.

A total of 545 screenshots were captured during the data collection, with a total of an additional 287 screenshots through a second data collection later on.

In total, 678 relevant screenshots across the five websites had language to discourage breastfeeding. Forty percent of the content focused on challenges of breastfeeding, and 44 percent of the websites were more likely to mention the benefits of formula than the benefits of breastfeeding or breast milk.

This is not new when it comes to marketing — every company wants their product to be the go-to product.

But when it comes to the nourishment and health of newborns, marketing that also includes the very real benefits of breastfeeding, rather than disparaging it, might be the more balanced approach.

The study looked at multiple brands.

Wu, did a quick scan of one included company, Enfamil, and was unable to find any information that pointed to negative comments against breastfeeding on their site. In fact, Enfamil’s site mentions how supplementing with formula can help parents breastfeed even longer.

Gerber’s website does state that breast milk is the ideal food for infants. They write: “Due to the overwhelming evidence supporting health benefits associated with breastfeeding, encouraging the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding should be a fundamental objective of healthcare professionals.”

“As a consumer, you must know the way ad companies work. They tout their product is the best for this and that. But what is actually best for your baby is something you may need to work out between you, your baby, and your pediatrician,” said Wu.

Absolutely not.

And, as Wu mentioned, there are many parents out there who are physically unable to breastfeed. Feeding their child formula does not put their child at a health disadvantage.

“Some women have had breast surgery or breast reduction, or might have difficulties with milk production. That can be a frustrating thing for a new mom to try to figure out,” she said.

Infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk. In fact, some formulas contain vitamins and nutrients that breast milk does not.

It’s also convenient and allows parents to share feeding duties. Parents who formula feed can also stick to their own diets and not have to worry about the things they eat or drink.

Healthcare professionals do tend to agree that breastfeeding, at least in the first 6 months, is preferred.

This is because people who are breastfeeding are able to transfer antibodies to their baby to help defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against chronic conditions.

The components of breast milk — lactose, protein, and fat — are easily digested by a newborn, as well. Breast milk also contains vitamins and minerals that newborns require. The one exception is vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a vitamin D-fortified formula in the first 2 months and up to a year.

Breast milk and infant formula, when used in tandem, can work together to build your baby’s nutrition.

“Every woman needs a different approach when feeding their baby,” added Wu. “What matters is that the baby is healthy and nourished.”