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Formula Companies Expensive Claims Can Discourage Breastfeeding

It simply isn't right to take advantage of new parents when they're vulnerable.

But baby formula companies are doing just that. And this is especially wrong because empty infant formula advertising claims undermine evidence-based messages like "breastfeeding is best for babies." This has got to be fixed, and we have a chance right now to change the way these infant formula companies and other food manufacturers do business so that parents get the facts, and not just empty hype on labels.

Tell your Senator that the Child Nutrition Act should include independent scientific reviews of formula and other foods so parents can make the best choices for their infants.


“All parents want what's best for their babies, and we want them to feel empowered to make an informed feeding decision at one of the most vulnerable and precious times of their lives—the birth of a new baby,” explains Megan Renner, Executive Director of the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC). "The marketing of infant formula has been shown to undermine breastfeeding intention and success. Independent review of ‘functional ingredients’ will go a long way towards providing parents with the information they have a right to receive.”

What’s happening right now?

Congress is debating the renewal of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) through the Child Nutrition Act. As the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act moves through the Senate, we're urging Senators to also include a review of the “functional ingredients” in baby formula and other foods WIC offers. Functional ingredients are things like prebiotics, nucleotides, and others ingredients that are marketed as improving a baby’s health. Companies add these “functional ingredients” as a way to command higher prices and make catchy health claims. Initial independent studies have shown very mixed results as to whether so-called “functional ingredients” actually do anything for the health of our kids.[1]

Our federal government carries enormous weight in this formula fiasco because half of all U.S. infants participate in the WIC program.[2] WIC’s mission is to provide healthy foods, breastfeeding support and nutrition counseling to low-income pregnant women, infants, and young kids. To that end, WIC gives vouchers for specific foods that qualifying families can use in their local grocery stores.

The government has estimated that these “functional ingredients” cost WIC $91 million annually.[3] Meanwhile, front-line WIC providers, who work hard to promote and support breastfeeding, are very concerned that moms are increasingly asking WIC for the formula “that’s just like breastmilk.”[4] And that’s why it’s so important for USDA to get expert advice based on an independent, systematic review of the research, which will be published for all consumers to see. An independent review of "functional ingredients" could save the taxpayers and the average new parent a lot of money.

Making baby formula labels crystal clear is critical because new parents need to be able to read baby formula labels and make the best selection for their children. Yet the current system isn't working. Here’s how MomsRising member Roberta describes her moment of new-parent-formula-selection-paralysis:

“The few times I had to buy formula for my son, I was paralyzed by the wall of options in the grocery store. Each brand made a different claim about what their formula would do for my son’s health, and the more claims there were, the more expensive the can. Even my son’s pediatrician couldn’t recommend a choice.”

It’s no wonder Roberta and her pediatrician couldn’t figure out which infant formula was best for her son. If companies want to say their formula makes your baby smarter, stronger, and cuter, no one in our government makes sure their claim is true.[5]

Unfortunately, we’re up against the formula companies in this fight, and as you can imagine they’re pretty powerful. That’s why as parents we need to be even louder!

*Don't forget to send a note to your Senator today:


Please let your friends and family know about this campaign too by forwarding this email right now. Together we can stand up for all the sleep-deprived moms and for the health of our children!

Together we’re a powerful voice for women and families,

--Sarah, Kristin, Donna, Joan, Mary and the whole MomsRising.org team

P.S. To read more about WIC and the formula fight go here: "Foods with New Functional Ingredients Should Be Provided Only If They Deliver Health or Nutritional Benefits," Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

P.P.S. A big thank you to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for all they do on this issue.

[1] For an example see Karen Simmer, Sanjay Patole, and Shripada C. Rao, “Longchain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation in Infants Born at Term,” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008, Issue 4.

[2] "About half of the infants in the United States participate and benefit from the WIC program.” See page 6 of Secretary Vilsack’s testimony.

[3] Marcus, Ruth, July 14, 2010 “Lobbying fight over infant formula highlights budget gridlock” Washington Post

[4] Check out what the California WIC Association is doing to improve breastfeeding policies.

[5] Neuberger, Zoe, June 4, 2010 "WIC Food Package Should Be Based on Science: Foods with New Functional Ingredients Should Be Provided Only If They Deliver Health or Nutritional Benefits" Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.


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