A billion-dollar formula company has waded into the so-called mommy wars with a surprising message: We support you no matter how you feed your baby. Similiac, a leading manufacturer of infant formula in the U.S., recently launched its new marketing campaign with a video parody that quickly went viral. In the commercial, mothers who judge each others decisions harshly (strollers vs. slings, breastfeeding vs. bottle, stay-at-home vs. back-at-work) start to brawl on the playground until (spoiler alert) they are united by saving a baby in a runaway stroller.
Lindsy B. Delco, director of public affairs for Abbott, the company that makes Similac, said the point of the commercial isn’t to convince consumers to buy formula but rather to feel comfortable with their parenting decisions. “We’ve always believed in supporting moms and dads,” she told Mashable. “I don’t know that we’ve always been as vocal about it.”
These days, formula companies would certainly welcome a warmer embrace of their products. Feeding a baby formula when it’s not medically necessary is now a controversial decision, not only in the judgmental neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Berkeley, but also amongst public health professionals. While hospitals once handed out formula to new mothers in swag bags, they’re now under pressure to put an end to giveaways and focus instead on breastfeeding.
The answer has a lot to do with science. When formula first became widely available in the early twentieth century, it seemed like a more effective, precise way to nourish a baby, said Amy Bentley, an associate professor of food studies at New York University and author of Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet.
At the time, researchers didn’t understand the unique properties of human milk, which contains antibodies and helps babies develop immunity to infection and disease. Mothers and doctors also didn’t feel confident that babies received enough nutrition and calories from breast milk, which can often look thin and watery. Formula became a way to “create better living through chemistry,” said Bentley.
By the late aughts, these findings made for a compelling, emotional argument in favor of breastfeeding. Formula feeding when it wasn’t medically necessary became stigmatized and discouraged, particularly as studies showed that it can negatively alter a baby’s gut bacteria and compromise the immune system.
In the hundreds of comments beneath the video, users debated the merits of the ad and questioned Similac’s motives, but plenty of parents praised the company for not only making them laugh, but also pointing out the ridiculousness of shaming other parents for their different choices. Read more…