Their high quality, extremely efficient Advanced Pump in Style double electric breast pump was what got Lily fed, period, for the first 5 months of her life, while my LC and I worked at various strategies to get her to latch. Using the SNS was an important step we needed to take along the way (though I ultimately found the Lact-Aid to be superior), as were their nipple shields. And primarily because I became emotionally invested in them, I also purchased accessories like their breastmilk storage bags, breast shells to help draw out flat or inverted nipples (and to air-dry them if sore or healing), their travel wipes for the pump, and the microwave steam cleaning bags. It’s convenient when the pump you’re using fits with the bottles you want to use, when replacement attachments are readily available, and when you feel like there’s a consistent quality there that you can trust. I completely understand that kind of brand loyalty.
Because I was such a loyal customer, it was all the more stinging to read this post by PhD in Parenting last week, full of serious truthiness as it is. I won't rehash the entire thing here, as she has done such a good job already, as did the above much earlier post from Hoyden About Town - do go check them out for yourself. Suffice it to say that not only has Medela flipped the bird at the code, marketing bottles in violation, they're now making matters even worse with this sly, underhanded "Medela Mom Mavens" campaign.
I can understand, to a degree, that it's a tricky line to walk at times. Having some of these products available, like the ones my daughter and I benefited from during our insane nursing saga, is important. They should be available to moms who need them, and easily so. I am thankful that when I needed a different size nipple shield, I was able to run out to the local big box baby store (more on that in a sec) and pick one up. I'm thankful that replacement attachments for the pump were similarly conveniently available. I am thankful that the moment it seemed like my situation might call for an SNS, my LC was able to hand me one immediately. Such breastfeeding support products can make a HUGE difference in breastfeeding success when there are complications. As Annie at PhD in Parenting says:
I don’t want to be overly critical of Medela. I think the company does a great job promoting and facilitating breastfeeding. Most of the information on its website is wonderful. Most of its products are of the highest quality. I have been nothing but happy with my Medela products. However, I do think that some of their current actions to promote their bottles are inappropriate. It would not be difficult for Medela to continue to promote breastfeeding and sell its bottles without promoting them. However, it has chosen to ignore the WHO Code and push more bottle imagery and bottle messaging on moms (more on why bottle imagery and messaging is hurtful here). The result is that Medela is directly pushing bottles on moms and also doing so indirectly via the Medela Mavens and others who might pick up on the message about how breastfeeding ties you down, so you really need a pump and bottles so you can get your hair done.Lines have been crossed, not only in the clearer terms of promoting their "breastmilk bottles", but in the more nebulous grey area of promoting products over breastfeeding. I've been mulling all this over for a few days, and trying to find a way to put that thought into words, and then I went to the big box baby store yesterday, a trip that was disappointing on two levels.
To be clear, on a sliding scale this is not even close to Enfamil or Nestle or other formula companies. Not even close. But I would argue, and others do argue, that any violation of the WHO Code weakens its potential impact. We cannot say “it’s okay because you are Medela,” but then slap Nestle on the hand for everything it does wrong.
I was there to drop off some flyers for the upcoming doula training I'm sponsoring, as well as some business cards. The last few times I was there (hey, pickin's are slim in this town), probably 2 months ago or so, there was a small table behind the registry area where local birth and baby-related services could leave their materials. There was never a lot, but there was a brochure for an independent childbirth class, cards for a breastfeeding support group, a small calendar of mom's playgroup activities, that kind of thing.
When I walked in yesterday, the table was empty. I asked an employee whether it had moved, or if there was another area to post about things like childbirth classes - a community message board, perhaps. She told me that no, they had decided to not allow outside materials any longer. Disappointment #1, in terms of small businesses and independent agencies. But hey, she said, they have some classes of their own! She pointed out the board below:
Here's a closer look:
A "Breastfeeding 101" workshop, sponsored by You Know Who! A basics of breastfeeding class whose description begins with "Ready, set, pump!"
If that doesn't make their priorities clear, I don't know what will. Believe me, I know firsthand that a pump is sometimes absolutely essential. And certainly it is for mothers who work outside the home. Hallelujah for them, seriously. But a breastfeeding class that focuses first and foremost on pumping? The rest of the description: "Get the scoop on breastfeeding and all the great products sure to make it easy to feed baby naturally." I mean, it's not that I was surprised to see a live, in-person infomercial for Medela products disguised as a breastfeeding "class". Especially not at a big box store (with similar classes in car seats, sponsored by Graco, and the like). I'm not so naive. Just very, very disappointed.
So, like many other lactivist moms out there, I can no longer in good conscience continue to promote Medela products. So what to recommend in its place? Just West of Crunchy has an excellent and thorough post on the matter, which starts out bemoaning the same state of affairs and then goes on to explain the Hygeia and Ameda pumps, both of which sound great - in addition to being WHO compliant, and proudly so, unlike some people, they are also closed system pumps, much preferable to Medela's open systems. She explains it all adeptly here:
If more mothers knew the facts about their beloved Pump in Style pumps, Medela would be selling a lot less of them. And I can speak from experience, I have a PIS sitting in my closet, waiting to die a slow death in a landfill.I took a look at Big Box Baby Store's pumps to see if they had either of the above. Nope. [See update below!] They had one Lansinoh electric pump, and one Evenflo hand pump, and the rest was, of course, all Medela, all the time. So, it's frustrating. Medela is no doubt the most widely available. You can go see them for yourself, talk to a salesperson, and take one home the same day. Ordering things online is less appealing and even prohibitive for some people. But I have to recommend doing so nonetheless, at least until/unless Medela does a serious 180 (and I would be thrilled if they did). If you're lucky enough to live in an area with smaller businesses that might sell alternative pumps directly, then hooray (for that among other reasons).Why? Because it can't be given to anyone else. That's right, my $280 breastpump has to be tossed in the trash. It's not FDA approved for more than one user. Even though I only used it maybe 30 times. And I know there's a huge black market for the sale and donation of used single-user pumps, but you know what? Even if I could, I wouldn't give the thing away to another mom. Because once you know the facts on the Medela pumps, you won't want to use them.There are "closed system" pumps and "open system" pumps. Medela is the latter. Having an "open system" means that milk can contaminate the tubing and the motor to the pump. And while the tubing can be cleaned or replaced, the motor cannot. Which means if my milk makes it into the motor, so could a hypothetical seccond user's, at which a time they'd mix. The motor can't be cleaned or sanitized, and there's no way to know if milk ever contaminated it. So, if you're using a second-hand pump, it might be clean, or it might not. Your guess is as good as mine.But even if you follow the rules an purchase a new Medela pump, keep it, and never allow it to be used by a second party, you can still have problems. It's important to note that Medela is completely open about their pumps being single-use only, they're very forthright about that. The information that's lacking, though, is that you can actually end up with MOLD in your pump motor and tubing, due to the open system design. The milk that you can't see in the motor - that you have no way of knowing whether it's there or not - can grow mold inside your pump. You can also end up with mold in the tubing (a lesser problem, as that's replaceable).I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a pump that has ZERO chance of developing mold in its motor. Both Hygeia and Ameda offer pumps that have closed systems. You're not going to get milk in them, because the way they're designed, there's no backflow. Not only are these WHO Code compliant companies, they make superior products!
What about some of the other products, though? Smaller ticket, yes, maybe not as big a deal to the company, but still. I can make a few recommendations. For the best storage bags: I always liked Lansinoh's. And I honestly would recommend the Lact-Aid over the SNS even if Medela was behaving ethically - same basic concept, but the difference in user-friendliness is HUGE, and again I must point out that Lily would NOT be nursing today were it not for the Lact-Aid - along with the brilliance of my LC of course. But I digress: As for nipple shields, that's one where I'm stumped. Breast shells as well - I know that for drawing out inverted nipples, Supple Cups are now available, and reputed to be very good, but for helping to air-dry sore or wounded nipples, I'm not familiar with an alternate brand. Lactation pros, moms with nursing challenge experience, do you have any ideas? Please chime in.
I close with the following from the Hoyden About Town piece, on the insidiousness of Medela's current marketing:
[Medela's commercial states:] “When you choose to breastfeed, you’re doing what’s best for your baby. When you choose Medela breastfeeding products, you’re doing what’s best for you both.”
Medela is saying, directly, that breastfeeding is not best for women. It might be ok for babies, sure, because they get the breastmilk, but Medela is telling us loud and clear that pumping is better for mothers than breastfeeding is. No qualifications, no circumstances; just “pumping and bottle-feeding is best for women”, with a side serve of “and it’s just as good for babies”.
This isn’t just a WHO Code violation; it’s not true. And it’s a lie fed by all of our dysfunctional societal issues around breasts and breastfeeding and public feeding and mother-child attachment and women and the workplace. It’s fed by the huge pile of myths about how easy pumping is, and about how bottled stored breastmilk is just as good, and about how it’s vital to schedule feeds and “see how much babies are taking”, and about how babies don’t know when they’re hungry or thirsty or full or in need of comfort. The problem is, it isn’t just fed by those dysfunctions, it’s feeding back into them, reinforcing them.
These sorts of advertisements are part of the huge coercive societal mechanism denying support for mothers and children, part of the capitalist machine preventing women from being able to afford time with new babies, and keeping them being good little workers and consumers. I think it’s no coincidence that two countries with no moves towards a full legislative implementation of the Code, the USA and Australia, are also the only two industrialised countries in the world without mandatory paid maternity leave.
Words mean stuff. Marketing is powerful. Advertising works.
And it makes a whoooole lot of money.