Breastfeeding during Hurricane Katrina and why I boycott Nestle

An article in Environmental Health Perspectives titled, Children’s Health: Breastfeeding: Nature’s MRE, makes an interesting point about the usefulness of breastfeeding during an environmental crisis. It seems when Hurricane Katrina hit there were infants hungry and at risk of water-borne disease due to being dependent on formula. The idea of breastfeeding as an emergency preparedness measure hadn’t registered with me before, though the evolutionary adaptation of being able to feed your infant a perfect, sterile food to sustain him or her 100% for the first six months and beyond does make sense.

You can’t market infant formula

The World Health Organization created The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. A public review document summarizes that, “The Code advocates that babies be breastfed. If babies are not breastfed, for whatever reason, the Code also advocates that they be fed safely on the best available nutritional alternative. Breast-milk substitutes should be available when needed, but not be promoted.”

In other words, like cigarettes, formula should be behind the counter in plain containers that fully educate parents about the risks of use. Your doctor, not your TV should help you make the decision whether or not to buy it.

But, few (if any) companies follow the code. The public brochure goes on to say that, “Promotion through any type of sales device, including special displays, discount coupons and special sales, is prohibited.” Gee, good thing I have never gotten a coupon for infant formula. (Search: Nestle+formula+coupon and check out the results.)

Why I boycott Nestle

From coupons to pretty packaging and free samples in hospitals, promotion of infant formula is rampant around the world. According to the WHO, it is estimated that 1.4 million infant deaths could be averted by simply breastfeeding. Among other concerns, babies in countries without dependably clean water get ill and many die from a dependence on formula.

Think about it. In order to use formula you need sterile facilities, access to clean water, knowledge of how to sterilize water and bottles, and enough wealth to buy formula and bottles for a year or more.

This isn’t a commentary about how educated women are in the developing world: maintaining a sterile environment is complicated.

Point being, while some families choose not to breastfeed, and others may have emotional concerns or rare physical issues that do not permit breastfeeding, in the majority of cases breastfeeding is the best option, particularly in countries where access to clean water is a major issue.

There are many ways to get involved including avoiding Kitkats and writing Nestle to tell them why. Check out: for ways to take action.

3 Responses to “Breastfeeding during Hurricane Katrina and why I boycott Nestle”
  1. Marlene says:

    I realized the survival benefit when I was sitting in a tornado shelter nursing my baby, while a woman near me was sitting with her upset, hungry baby and no formula or breast milk. Fortunately the tornadoes let us be and we were quickly back in our own abodes, but if that had not been the case I guess I would have been sharing some milk. 😉

  2. Iandicus says:

    You really nailed it with this one. It makes me so sad to see women toting around cold milk and formula, etc. So often though these are the same people I see slipping their young toddlers Sunny D and other sugary drinks and then taking them to get prescriptions for ADD when they hit school age. These are the same parents who take babies for antibiotics every time they sniffle and then wondering why they end up in and out of hospitals for their child’s entire young life.

    Education is the key to helping women understand that just because so many others do it, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. We need to step back and look at what made past generations stronger than this one, the first generation in history that will likely not live as long as it’s predecessor. It could even be as simple as showing them how much less weight they need to carry around in that baby bag when those bottles and cans are absent and they carry food with them naturally.

    You hit on a real soft spot for me as well with Katrina. I remember when we were moving when Sam was about 4 months old. I had only stopped off for a muffin in the morning and hadn’t remembered to drink water for most of the day. When it came time to feed Sam, it was the only time in my life that milk did not come easily and it brought a real picture to mind of a woman I had seen in New Orleans during a news story, who had tears in her eyes and was holding her newborn. She was begging for water, just water, so she could feed her child.

  3. Theresa Gerritsen says:

    Reblogged this on The Art and Science of Parenting and commented:

    I wrote this article on The World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which is relevant again today after an article in the NYT

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