Guilt tripping motherhood

| June 7, 2024

New mums face a relentless barrage of products marketed as essential – from specialised pregnancy and infant formula to breastfeeding products. Many of these products lack scientific backing and some may even be harmful to their physical and mental well-being.

But the bigger issue lies in the marketing tactics themselves. By preying on anxieties and insecurities, these products create a crippling cycle of guilt and pressure to meet a certain expectation.

In one recent study in the UK, five first-time mothers who documented their breastfeeding experiences revealed they were bombarded by commercial messages throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding, and they turned to an increasing number of commercial solutions when things didn’t go as planned.

The constant barrage of marketing fuelled their need for “breastfeeding paraphernalia,” making these items seem crucial, and contributing to stress and anxiety.

This trend of commercialising women’s health, particularly targeting pregnant and lactating mothers, raises concerns. Products marketed as supportive often lack scientific backing and may pose risks to mothers and their infants.

While nutrition during pregnancy is essential, specialised formula milk for pregnant women is questionable. According to the World Health Organization, maintaining a balanced diet is sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women, alongside nutrition education and counselling. Yet aggressive marketing tactics often imply the superiority of these specialised products despite the lack of evidence to support such claims.

This exploitation of vulnerabilities extends globally. The escalating sales of milk-based formula globally, especially in regions like East Asia, signify a worrying trend. The aggressive promotion of commercial milk formula for infants and toddlers undermines their health and development. Even worse, it erodes mothers’ confidence and cynically exploits parents’ instinct to provide the best for their children.

In Indonesia, the infant nutrition market is projected to grow significantly, fuelled by innovations in product development. However, such growth raises questions about the effectiveness of regulatory frameworks and highlights gaps in infant feeding monitoring systems.

According to a report in 2022,  Indonesian families spent approximately 3 trillion rupiah or USD$184.6 million annually on formula milk. This expenditure is likely to rise if the breastfeeding programs face obstacles.

Studies demonstrate that the marketing of infant/child milk-based formula contributes to suboptimal breastfeeding and adversely impacts maternal and child health outcomes.

In 2021, Indonesia experienced a decline in breastfeeding rates, with less than half of babies being breastfed in the first hour of life and only 52.5 percent exclusively breastfed in the first six months, down from 58.2 percent in 2021 and 64.5 percent in 2018.

With nearly 40 percent of Indonesia’s workforce comprised of women, UNICEF and WHO are advocating for increased support for breastfeeding mothers. They urge workplaces to implement parental and maternal leave policies and provide adequate time and spaces for breastfeeding or expressing milk. Globally, these organisations recommend early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months.

The inappropriate marketing of formula milk violates the WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, aimed at protecting and promoting breastfeeding.

Studies have documented violations in Indonesia, indicating a need for stricter enforcement. Urgent regulation of online marketing for milk formula and other child nutrition products is imperative to safeguard maternal and child health.

Efforts to promote breastfeeding, such as those in Brazil and the Philippines through advertising and marketing regulations, have led to increased breastfeeding rates. Likewise, studies emphasise the importance of supporting early initiation of breastfeeding among working mothers to enhance exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The commercialisation of women’s health presents a delicate balance between providing necessary support and exploiting vulnerabilities.

While innovation and awareness can benefit mothers, regulations are essential to protect maternal and child health. Prioritising evidence-based practices and supporting breastfeeding initiatives will pave the way to improve well-being of mothers and children worldwide.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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