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FAQs About The Code

October 2020

This post will discuss the roles and responsibilities of healthcare workers related to the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, hereby known as The Code.  “Health workers have a vital role to play in educating mothers and other caregivers about infant and young child feeding.  It is also their moral, legal, and professional responsibility to protect, promote, and support optimal feeding,” (1).


  1. What is The Code? Written in 1981 with regular subsequent resolutions, aims to ensure that breast-milk substitutes are available when needed but not promoted. Breast-milk substitutes are NOT outlawed. It was adopted by the World Health Assembly as a set of recommendations to regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, feeding bottles, and teats (nipples).
  2. How does The Code affect me as a healthcare worker/provider? Although it appears it is aimed more at governments and baby food companies, The Code prohibits any type of promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health services. Recommendations for health workers include informing and educating mothers to make an informed and unbiased decision that is free from any commercial influences by baby food companies as well as how to avoid being influenced by those very companies as healthcare workers.
  3. How do baby food companies use health workers to promote their product(s)? Promotional practices include donating free or subsidized supplies of breast-milk substitutes, providing free samples of formula, offering “free” education for families and health workers, giving gifts to healthcare workers and their families, and/or sponsoring lunches/dinners, meetings, and conferences. Baby food companies target you as a health worker to promote their products, offering subtle incentives that can lead to the direct or indirect endorsement of their products. Examples include logoed lanyards, writing pads, pens, clocks, measuring tapes, posters, teaching handouts, foods/candies, equipment, and much more. It’s important to know that companies donate formula knowing that free distribution creates brand loyalty among parents when they leave the birth facility.
  4. Our facility has to carry breast-milk substitutes for families that can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. How should that be stored? Any formula stored in a birth facility should be stored out of sight; for example, a closed cupboard or generic bags can be used to prevent any product promotion to patients or staff members.
  5. I’m expected, as a health worker, to continue to improve my professional knowledge so why can’t I accept funding from a baby food company to attend a conference? Any funding provided by baby food companies for travel or attendance at professional conferences or meetings is yet another way these companies try to influence you, creating a relationship in which you feel indebted to them. This is an unethical form of financial inducement and is prohibited by The Code.
  6. Does The Code cover breast pumps and other equipment to help breastfeeding families? The Code covers the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, feeding bottles, and teats. If the pump advertises their bottle on the pump packaging, website, or brochures, they are not Code compliant. Pumps are not the problems; it is the bottles and teats that are marketed to parents that violate The Code.

These are just some of the most common questions asked regarding what The Code covers. I hope this gives you a little deeper understanding of The Code. WHO’s website has much more, free to download, at www.who.org.

Stay safe and keep on promoting breastfeeding!

Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, RN, IBCLC, FILCA CHC

Professional Development Educator

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Downloaded from https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/breastmilk-substitutes-FAQ2017/en/

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