Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting Off the Medela Teat

(I am SO not really.)

By way of introductory comments, I first need to hail the revival of Just West of Crunchy, which was rendered out of commission by a terrible crash. Welcome back! Secondly, I'm going to point you in the direction of a Very Important Post: The Problems With Medela.

What's that you say? Problems? With Medela? But - they make breastfeeding products! They promote breastfeeding, right? And I love my slick Pump In Style. How can you have problems with them? 

Trust me, I understand. I was right there with ya. Here's the thing. I have my own post addressing my concerns about Medela, as some of you might remember, but JWOC's post is incredibly detailed and thorough (heck, I included a link in my own piece) and does a bang-up job of explaining why everything with Medela is not as rosy as it might seem. 

The issues fall into two major categories: Medela's very-much-intentional violation of the WHO International Code Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes (henceforth known as "The Code"), and Medela's very-much-intentional production of open-system, mold-vulnerable, single-user-only, landfill-destined pumps. I'd excerpt from JWOC's and my posts, but I'd end up excising them almost in their entirety, so please, go ahead and click through and check them out.

Why this is timely for me now: Here I am, in Boob School, knowing all of this . . . and turning around to distribute Medela nipple shields, and Medela hydrogel packs, and Medela Supplemental Nursing Systems, and Medela breast shells; and then there's Medela microwave steam cleaning kits, and Medela storage bags, and Medela sanitizing wipes, and on, and on, and on. I do it with an internal wince - but I do it. And this is definitely representative of many (I would venture to say most) lactation consulting environments. I would expect this in hospitals, as they rent out the Medela-manufactured hospital grade pumps (the only kind that are approved and safe to be used by more than one mother), but they're present to the point of ubiquity even in environments like Birthingway's clinic.

So I have to wonder: Is there any way to change this? Is Medela so pervasive that even among those who know about the Code violations and the worries about their pumps, ethical concerns have to be shelved because their products are so indispensable? We know about some other excellent pumps, of course. Other companies produce 'accessories' that are on par with Medela's as well - I've written to some of them to ask for samples for our clinic. Yet I feel like a stronger statement could be made by our profession as a group, if we acted collectively.

I'd love to hear from others working in lactation consulting environments. Are there any out there that are Medela-free? I genuinely do not know. Are they in private practice? Or might there be any Medela-free hospitals? What about hospitals that qualify as Baby-Friendly? What is their position on accepting and promoting Medela products? The Baby Friendly Initiative was started by the WHO (in conjunction with UNICEF); it would be odd to me if a Baby Friendly hospital were to distribute products made by a Code-violating company - but again, I don't know one way or the other.

Can we start talking about this?

One last thing: Another excellent post on Medela was written by PhD in Parenting. It's linked to in my own original Medela post, but it's worth mentioning again here, not just because it's great but because many of you (especially if all this is new information) might be wondering what the big deal is. Okay, so they're not perfectly perfect, but why spend time attacking Medela when the formula companies are the real culprits? I think she summarizes the objections to criticizing Medela so well here:

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.
 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.