Medela, The WHO Code Violator

There has been much discussion lately in the breastfeeding advocacy community concerning the behavior of breast pump manufactorer Medela and whether Medela is in violation of the World Health Organization Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.  Understanding how Medela is violating the Code takes some sophistication and explaining.  It isn’t as obvious as formula manufacturers giving free samples to women who have only contaminated water with which to prepare a product that stands a significant chance of killing their new babies.  Medela is marketing bottles – bottles free of leaching plastics – so how is that something for which the company should be sanctioned?

Go over to Hoyden About Town, an Australian blog, and read Medela Bites its Thumb at the WHO Code.  Everything you ever needed to know about how the Code works, how Medela’s current marketing violates the Code, how and why that is a very bad thing, and footnotes.  Some of the blog entry has information about Code compliance in Australia which a non-Australian might be tempted to skip. I encourage you to read it anyway because every country has responded to the Code in ways that may or may not be analogous to Australia and reading about Code violation there helps put other Code violation into context.  Trust me.

After you read Hoyden About Town, take a good look at Medela’s latest public statement on its own behavior.  Medela openly admits that it is currently violating the WHO Code:

these activities bring Medela in a conflict with the current interpretation of the WHO Code with regard to the marketing of bottles and teats [“nipples” for those of us who speak American].

but, hey, Medela says that is okay because:

After a careful evaluation we believe our actions continue to support the WHO Code’s intent to support breastfeeding and oppose breastmilk substitutes. However, we recognize and sincerely regret that our actions may be considered as a WHO Code violation.

So, in one statement, Medela admits it is violating the WHO Code, claims to be supporting the intent of the Code, and regrets its “actions may be considered as a WHO Code violation.”  Excuse me? Clearly the translation is “Medela has decided to make more money marketing bottles so we don’t care about the WHO Code.”

Medela needs to hear that its customers do indeed care about the WHO Code.  La Leche League International and the International Lactation Consultant Association have both pledged to stop doing business with Medela (and for LLLI that means refusing grants).  Hoyden About Town has suggestions for alternative Code compliant products.  Profits more important than childrens’ lives?  Then we can do without Medela.


  • Sarah March 12th, 2009 at 6:38 pm · Reply This is so sad. Medela makes not only high-quality breast pumps, but also other products that have helped many mothers continue with breastfeeding. Now they are selling out babies and mothers to make more money pushing bottles and pushing babies from their mothers’ breasts where they belong. Breastfeeding coalitions and nonprofit groups (such as La Leche League entities) will struggle even more for operating and outreach funding now that another big company has crossed over to the other side.
  • Jake March 13th, 2009 at 6:30 pm · Reply It does seem to be such a clear case of putting profit before all else. :(
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  • Marva Beaver RN May 6th, 2009 at 7:19 am · Reply I feel Medela is being treated unfairly. In the US, most new working mothers only get 6 weeks(usually unpaid) maternity leave. It is only by pumping and leaving the bottles to be given to the baby while mom is at work does the baby get breastmilk at all.
    Do maternity leave policies need changed? Undoubtedly. But Medela should not be censored for selling good products that help working moms feed their babies breastmilk.
  • Jake May 6th, 2009 at 11:36 am · Reply I understand your concern about the availability of products for pumping women, Marva. However, Medela’s violation of the WHO Code does not stem from its *selling* certain products. The WHO Code violation is in the way Medela has voluntarily chosen to *market* those products.I fail to see how Medela is being treated unfairly. Medela has made the choice to market its non-pump products in a way that discourages women from breastfeeding. Nothing in the WHO Code prevents Medela from manufacturing and selling bottles – in fact when I was pumping I used a Medela pump and the bottles that came with it. Medela has made a corporate decision that hurts breastfeeding and pumping women. The fault here lies with Medela.
  • LisaMay 7th, 2009 at 8:28 am · Reply Medela is a breast pump manufacturer and thus would of course have to offer safe bottles to pump the milk into. What in the world is wrong with this?
  • Jake May 7th, 2009 at 10:41 am · Reply Medela has long sold bottles and done so in a manner that complies with the WHO Code. If you read the links above in this blog post, you can read how the change in *marketing* strategy violates the Code.
  • Leonel @ Medela Breast Pump Review February 12th, 2010 at 10:50 am · Reply I see that these posts are from 2009. Are there any updates to the company’s compliance issue with WHO?
  • Jake February 13th, 2010 at 1:20 pm · Reply @Leonel, I am not aware of any updates regarding Medela’s WHO Code compliance. Looks like you should be more in touch with Medela than I am. No? ;)
    Jake´s last blog ..Haiti, Hell, Good Intentions, and Breast Milk Donations My ComLuv Profile
  • Sandy February 24th, 2010 at 5:10 pm · Reply Medela is not “the only game in town” and their arrogance in deliberate WHO Code violation should speak volumes of their priorities (profits)!
    I support ILCA and suggest that this is an opportunity to explore competitors (ie Ameda) who also offer quality products.