The international code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes

What is the Code?

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code) is an international health policy framework to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in order to protect breastfeeding. It was published by the World Health Organisation in 1981, and is an internationally agreed voluntary code of practice.

It was written in response to the marketing activities of the infant feeding industry which were promoting formula feeding over breastfeeding, which in turn was leading to dramatic increases in maternal and infant morbidity and mortality.

The underlying basis for the Code is the belief that the health of babies is so important that the usual rules governing market competition and advertising should not apply to products intended for feeding babies. Therefore, all Governments should legislate to prevent commercial interests from damaging breastfeeding rates and the health of their population.

What does the Code do?

The Code regulates the marketing of breastmilk substitutes which includes infant formulas, follow-on formulas and any other food or drink, together with feeding bottles and teats, intended for babies and young children.

The Code also sets standards for the labelling and quality of products and for how the law should be implemented and monitored within countries.

Restricting marketing does not mean that the products cannot be sold, or that factual and scientific information about them cannot be made available. Neither does it restrict parent’s choice. It simply aims to make sure that their choices are made based on full, impartial information, rather than misleading, inaccurate or biased marketing claims.

Why does it matter?

Advertising influences our behaviour. The formula milk industry spends millions of pounds every year on advertising and marketing its products, encouraging mothers not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding early, and to use an array of different, expensive formula milks, as soon as possible and for as long as possible. In addition, parents are then urged to use costly, processed baby food, often before six months of age, the recommended age for starting solids. There is no evidence that more expensive formula milks or baby foods are beneficial to a baby’s health. Most of these are unnecessary, and can be harmful. Where these products differ from most others is that such advertising can damage the short and long-term health of our children by undermining breastfeeding and misleading parents who bottle feed about what milk to use.

What does this mean for practice?

Baby Friendly accreditation requires services to implement the requirements of the Code. Health workers should ensure that there is:

  • No advertising for infant feeding products anywhere within public services.
  • No contact between company personnel and pregnant women or mothers.
  • No items bearing company logos on public service premises or used by its staff. Examples include: mugs, stationery, diary covers, key fobs, lanyards, pens, tourniquets, gestational / age in weeks calculators, weight conversion charts, post-it note pads.
  • No free samples to health professionals or mothers.
  • Only scientific and factual information, free from commercial bias, used in the care of babies and their parents.

Source from: UNICEF – https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/guidance-for-health-professionals/the-code/