M* Mitzva

The only Israeli formula company, M*, with the pseudo-scientific Latin sounding name, has been running a successful public relations campaign within the religious community in Israel for eight years now. They teamed up with a charity organization to collect used M* scoops and bags. For every four collected, the company will donate one new can to the organization.

Who can complain about a company that will give needy mothers free formula, in exchange for stuff that would go in the garbage anyway?

Well, I can.

The campaign is a blatant violation of the International WHO Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes, which Israel signed and is supposedly committed to upholding.

Let me start by saying that I support the right of every family to feed their babies as they choose. Babies should not starve, chas ve-shalom, because a mother chooses not to breastfeed. If a poor family needs formula for their baby, they should get it. Even affluent mothers have a hard time getting the information and support they need to breastfeed their babies; disadvantaged families have it worse, and their babies shouldn’t suffer.

But the manufacturer’s motives are far from pure here. What invest so much in a campaign that includes full-page ads in charedi newspapers, email blitzes, flyers passed out in schools (including my daughter’s junior high) and who knows where else? I don’t want to give them ideas but I bet they have youth groups collecting the scoops too. Here’s why they do it:

  1. Public relations. Everyone who hears about this campaign gets a warm, fuzzy feeling about M*. When they have a baby, they remember that M* does mitzvot (nice alliteration too).
  2. It’s a great way to advertise among young women, their future customers.
  3. I can guarantee you that the chesed organization does not check to see if a family is breastfeeding before donating the formula. In fact, M* is happier to donate to families with nursing babies, because the family will be tempted to use the “free” formula and thus undermine breastfeeding by lowering her milk supply. Maybe the organization will kick in at that point with more formula, maybe not. One thing is certain–no one will ask the baby.
  4. Current customers will buy more M* than they would have otherwise, in order to collect scoops. That’s how public relations works.
  5. If M* really wanted to help poor families, they would donate the formula without collecting the scoops and making a big campaign. At the very least, they would accept scoops from other brands.
  6. If M* really wanted to help babies, they wouldn’t pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to distribute their products freely in every hospital and pediatric clinic, a practice detrimental to breastfeeding success.

Breastfeeding is free. It helps mothers develop a loving relationship with their babies. It helps mothers and babies stay healthy, and working mothers who pump miss fewer days because of illness. Every mother, no matter her circumstances, has the right to correct information and support. No conglomerate is looking out for breastfeeding; the Code‘s purpose is to even the playing field so that breastfeeding has a chance. The paternalistic assumption that poor mothers can’t or won’t breastfeed harms families. I have a friend who was in bad financial straits. Despite the fact that she was nursing, everyone kept trying to buy her formula.

    Just for the record: Nursing mothers do need to consume more calories. However, an extra bowl of oatmeal is a lot cheaper than a day’s worth of formula.

    A neighbor once approached me to help buy formula for a family with newborn twins. The hospital staff had convinced the mother to take dry-up pills in the hospital. I mean, everyone knows that no one has enough milk for twins, right? When the mother came got home and found she couldn’t afford the formula, the neighbor approached various organizations (including the one above) but nothing materialized. I offered to help the mother start breastfeeding again as this is possible even after those pills, but she never contacted me. (In case you’re wondering, I did give a donation.)

    It’s time to wake up and acknowledge the detrimental effect of this kind of promotion on babies and families in Israel.

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    Comments

    1. Sheyna Galyan says:

      As you might have mentioned, we have the same problem in the States with formula companies making sure every pediatrician sends home a diaper bag full of formula and coupons to every mother of a newborn who comes in for an exam. Not to mention hospitals send these home with new mothers, too. And the nurses where I was didn’t allow me to say “no.”

      I breastfed each of my children for two years, and I had a number of friends who could not breastfeed for one reason or another. I gave them all the formula I had received, but when I discovered that simply giving birth to a baby put me on a formula company’s mailing list so they could send me MORE samples and coupons, it just made me mad.

      Here I am trying to do the best I can for my children and they’re undermining me at every turn. Grf.

    2. Mother of Israel says:

      Bravo!

    3. Anonymous says:

      I’m sad to learn that this is done in Israel, too. HOw prevalent is breast feeding in Israel now? I nursed my own daughter for 7 years. She NEVER had formula or cow’s milk as a baby, toddler or young child. After I gave birth, the hospital sent me home with free samples and “starter” formula kits with both soymilk and cow’s milk. Let me say that both make great pancake batter!!! La Leche League is a WONDERFUL organization here in the STates that promotes breastfeeding. They have WONDERFUL publications and personal one-on-one support and help new Moms with all sorts of initial nursing issues. Of course one can breastfeed twins and multiples! The most beautiful part of breastfeeding is that Mom’s body will make exactly the amount of milk that the child(ren) need(s).
      There are truly very very few women who biological cannot nurse their babies or who have babies who could not benefit from the goodness of mother’s milk. I was a donor for three years to the MOthers’ Milk Bank, as well. This organization provides human breast milk (doctor’s presecription required) to infants and children who need it. One of the patients who received my milk was a 4 yr. old who had a Tetrology of Fallot heart defect. Breast milk kept her alive for at least 4 or 5 years before she ultimately died. It’s a mitzvah to breastfeed your baby and also to donate breast milk to milk banks. Shabbat Shalom.
      Helene in California

    4. mother in israel says:

      Sheyna—Thanks for sharing your story. Dr. Newman, when he was here, said that the companies come to the hospitals and collect the empty containers to save the nurses and staff the trouble. They also “educate” the staff on “infant nutrition.” I posted about his visit to Israel: http://mominisrael.blogspot.com/2006/11/breastfeeding-expert-talks-about.html
      MOI==thanks!
      Anon–Welcome! The rate is going up, and you are expected to nurse in the hospital, but it’s the rare baby who gets out without at least one bottle feed.
      LLL is very successful in Israel. Kol hakavod to you for donating your milk.

    5. My comments disappeared since I switched to Haloscan. I’ll copy some from some of the recent posts soon.
      Sheyna Galyan has left a new comment on your post “M* Mitzva”:
      As you might have mentioned, we have the same problem in the States with formula companies making sure every pediatrician sends home a diaper bag full of formula and coupons to every mother of a newborn who comes in for an exam. Not to mention hospitals send these home with new mothers, too. And the nurses where I was didn’t allow me to say “no.” I breastfed each of my children for two years, and I had a number of friends who could not breastfeed for one reason or another. I gave them all the formula I had received, but when I discovered that simply giving birth to a baby put me on a formula company’s mailing list so they could send me MORE samples and coupons, it just made me mad. Here I am trying to do the best I can for my children and they’re undermining me at every turn. Grf.
      Mother of Israel has left a new comment on your post “M* Mitzva”:
      Bravo!
      Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “M* Mitzva”:
      I’m sad to learn that this is done in Israel, too. HOw prevalent is breast feeding in Israel now? I nursed my own daughter for 7 years. She NEVER had formula or cow’s milk as a baby, toddler or young child. After I gave birth, the hospital sent me home with free samples and “starter” formula kits with both soymilk and cow’s milk. Let me say that both make great pancake batter!!! La Leche League is a WONDERFUL organization here in the STates that promotes breastfeeding. They have WONDERFUL publications and personal one-on-one support and help new Moms with all sorts of initial nursing issues. Of course one can breastfeed twins and multiples! The most beautiful part of breastfeeding is that Mom’s body will make exactly the amount of milk that the child(ren) need(s). There are truly very very few women who biological cannot nurse their babies or who have babies who could not benefit from the goodness of mother’s milk. I was a donor for three years to the MOthers’ Milk Bank, as well. This organization provides human breast milk (doctor’s presecription required) to infants and children who need it. One of the patients who received my milk was a 4 yr. old who had a Tetrology of Fallot heart defect. Breast milk kept her alive for at least 4 or 5 years before she ultimately died. It’s a mitzvah to breastfeed your baby and also to donate breast milk to milk banks. Shabbat Shalom. Helene in California

    6. Sheyna—Thanks for sharing your story. Dr. Newman, when he was here, said that the companies come to the hospitals and collect the empty containers to save the nurses and staff the trouble. They also “educate” the staff on “infant nutrition.” I posted about his visit to Israel: http://mominisrael.blogspot.com/2006/11/breastfeeding-expert-talks-about.html MOI==thanks!
      Anon–Welcome! The rate is going up, and you are expected to nurse in the hospital, but it’s the rare baby who gets out without at least one bottle feed. LLL is very successful in Israel. Kol hakavod to you for donating your milk.

    7. Milk donation is an interesting idea. Do the donors get screened in some way to assure nothing would be passed through?

    8. Who cares about the old comments, MII? Now you can start adorning your shiny new Haloscan place, and no spam will touch it anymore. Well, almost no spam…
      Cheers.

    9. Ariella–There are a few milk banks in the US that do screen milk. I hope Helene will come back and share more.
      Snoopy–Um, thanks for the support.

    10. that is very frustrating.
      it is the same thing here, actually, during this past pregnancy, the practice i’d started out at had me fill out all of the send back request forms to the formula companies IN THEIR OFFICE even though i told them i wasn’t interested. i think i put the wrong address on some of them. (that was actually one of the reasons why i changed practices….)i wonder if some of these places get some kind of kick-back from the companies.
      at any rate, while i’m not militant about nursing (although i nursed my first two until 2years old and 1 1/2) i’m truly for nursing for all of the reasons you listed. also, my first was a c-section, and almost a month early, and jaundiced. her jaw muscles weren’t fully developed and in order for her to nurse, i had to pump and finger feed her to build up the muscles. because she had trouble nursing, initially i had to supplement for a few days with formula to get rid of the jaundice (arrgggh) but because of the pump, we were able to resume nursing with the finger feeding immediately with no problems. we continued nursing for 2 years. there is no reason why a mother cannot nurse unless she chooses not to, but that should be her choice, not the choice of a company who doesn’t have her best interest in mind.

    11. Hi Bec, thanks for stopping by! I hope that means you’re having an easy transition.
      Good for you for overcoming those challenges–it sounds like you feel it was worth it.
      I was actually playing around with writing a post about militant breastfeeding. In Israel, it seems that you have to be militant simply in order to get out of the hospital without the baby having had a bottle. THere are a lot of risks to giving formula to a baby so young, but just about every mother I am in contact with reports this experience.
      Say hi to MZ for me!

    12. I’m sorry you had health problems that caused you to wean, and I hope that they are under control with medication.
      I suspect you would have known that formula existed and where to get it, even without the massive campaigns. And the product would have been cheaper too. Numerous studies have shown that formula advertising significantly reduces breastfeeding rates; the companies don’t just compete with each other. Breastfeeding mothers are the best target because they aren’t loyal to a brand yet. It’s unethical for formula companies to have direct contact with mothers, and giving their product for free is worse. No one is suggesting that mothers should not have access to formula.
      Here’s a sample study:
      http://www.greenjournal.org/cgi/content/full/95/2/296

    13. I pumped for my first while she was in the NICU, nursed my second until I was preganat with my third, and nursed my third until I found out that my cholesterol is so high that I need drugs ASAP and t/f can not nurse. I am not sure that campaigns convince people to formula feed as opposed to breast. I think that sometimes you just don’t have a choice.

    14. I wish I could have known your neighbor’s friend back-when. I nursed my twins, with varying degrees. I nursed them as soon as they were strong enough to suck. They were pre-mies, and the people at Tel Hashomer were encouraging me to not give up, keep pumping. Then they put my milk in the kids tubes (put the milk directly down their throats), and supplemented because I didn’t have enough. At first. Then they helped me nurse each one alone, and then taught me how to do them together. All along, I continued to end each nursing period with a bottle. It was necessary, because they drank that down every time. But the joy of breastfeeding was too much to give up and I didn’t care if it was “more for me than for the babies” as one woman at tipat halav told me. The boy of the twins weaned himself at 11 months (just lost interest in it), and the girl kept on after 2 years, even into the first trimester of my second pregnancy.
      I hate bottle feeding with a passion: the worries of the germs, the cleaning, boiling, testing….on and on. And I loved nursing my children. It’s a bond that we keep forever.
      I don’t remember having milk at Tel Hashomer, or anyone giving it out. The only thing I didn’t like was the dirty looks the nurses gave me when I “spent too much time” nursing my third child.
      And you know, he was born with a C-section, and I still nursed him.

    15. mominisrael says:

      Welcome, Rochelle! How long did they keep up with the bottles? GOod for you for sticking it out for so long! I really admire you and mixed feelings for pumping–that sounds like a very h ard thing to do.

    16. Rochelle, I had the same experience with my C-section baby who was in the NICU for 3 weeks. Some nurses put scheduling above nursing so would not let me take as long as it should and would also rush to give the baby a bottle on schedule.

    17. hi this may sound gross but it is something that is developing in the states- the idea of donating ones breast milk, (of course with proper screening,) to babies whos mom’s do not have enough milk, for example premature infants in some cases etc. I gave birth a couple of months ago and i have, thank god, a lot of milk. I would like to donate it before it expires but my first choice would be to donate it to jewish children in need. I was wondering if anyone had any ideas of where I could donate it and how to go about it. As a NICU nurse I understand the benefit of breast milk is great, children get the antibodies from the milk and are better protected against infections. In addition it is much better for the digestive system and children have less gastrointestinal problems thoughout their lives.

      • Hi Miriam,
        Donating milk is a wonderful idea. The problem is that the mother must be screened for certain conditions, and the milk pasteurized. In the US there are a few milk banks that take care of this. Of course, many women donate privately and breastfeeding forums usually have requests from moms in need. Often, the donating mother must promise not to eat dairy or other foods.

    18. What’s wrong with eating dairy (is it medical or a cholov Yisroel thing) I know about the screening part and how to store correctly etc but would I find people in my community or is there an official place in Israel for sick or premie babies that would benefit the most from it( most parent will need to be pretty desperate to resort to donated milk over formula…

    19. Miriam, medical. (although it’s true that there are informal milk banks that only accept milk from mothers who drink chalav yisrael. As if they and their husbands are free of all disease.)
      A large number of babies who can’t tolerate formula are highly allergic. Check out my latest post: http://wp.me/pqB6g-WH

    20. How does this campaign encourage current customers to buy more just to get the scoops? As a current customer of M, I buy however much my baby needs.

      • That is not the main goal of the campaign. PR works by associating a brand name with positive feelings and associations. But it does subtly encourage purchasing more. For instance, a grandmother buying for visiting children; buying an extra package to participate in the campaign while there is still some left in the previous package, and risking that the new package will expire; or buying extra for a baby who is only partially breastfeeding just in case more is needed.

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