What business wouldn’t love free publicity? Well, for one, lactation consultants, when the free publicity is coming from a company that violates their professional ethics.
Day before yesterday I received an email from Erin, who works for a public-relations firm representing infant bottle manufacturer, Munchkin. It started, “In light of your very focused blog content around breastfeeding I wanted to touch base with some news from a company that is offering a unique solution and unrivaled support for breastfeeding moms.” She went on to describe how Munchkin’s new bottle line is “like the breast” and has an “anti-colic valve.” Of course these are the same kind of baseless claims made by all of the bottle manufacturers, and I knew better to accept them at face value.
However, that wasn’t the worst of it. Erin went on to say:
"Taking it a step beyond traditional bottle manufacturers to fully demonstrate their support of breastfeeding mothers, Munchkin is also providing moms with a Lactation Consultant Database (http://www.munchkin.com/latch-locator) because they understand just how many challenges they may face in this process and want to help them achieve their individual breastfeeding goals."
That got my attention. When I followed the link to the Munchkin site, above its Lactation Consultant Locator was copy that sounded for all the world as though lactation consultants endorsed its products. You have to read the following very carefully not to get that impression:
"We partnered with lactation consultants to develop our [xyz] bottle because we believe they offer the best expert advice for breastfeeding Moms. While we worked with a select few, there are thousands across the country that can help you reach your breastfeeding goals. If you’re a mom who needs help on how to get a good latch, how to increase milk production, or how to find the best breastfeeding position, find a Lactation Consultant in your area by simply entering your zip code or address below:"
When I entered my zip code in the locator, I noticed that all of the IBCLCs in my area came up. It appeared as though Munchkin had created this list from other sources. And I was almost positive that none of those listed knew that their names were connected online to this company and its products.
I responded in two ways. First I wrote back to Erin to say:
"As an FYI, I left a lucrative position with a company when it started to market its infant feeding bottles and nipples directly to parents, which is in violation of the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and counter to my code of professional conducts. Munchkin’s marketing claims are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
"I know that many of the IBCLCs currently listed on Munchkin’s Lactation Consultant Locator have no idea that their names are connected to Munchkin in this way. It needs to ask permission before including their names and contact information on its website. Please remove me from your contact list."
Then I posted on Lactnet, my professional listserv and included Erin’s email, her links, and my reply. Just as I suspected, the emails began coming from colleagues thanking me for letting them know and copying me on their emails requesting they be removed from the locator. When checking the locator, one lactation consultant found her home address listed. Another was listed at her husband’s office. To be removed, call or email Monica Kapadia, Marketing Manager at Munchkin, at: 818-221-4241 or Monica.firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact Munchkin directly at this link.
As a side note, just before uploading this post, I got word that Munchkin had taken down its locator, no doubt due to the unexpected pushback. (If you need to find a lactation consultant, go instead to the website of lactation consultant professional association, which has permission to list their contact information.)
Were those at Munchkin doing a good deed for the breastfeeding community? Some of them may have thought so. But they were also using the good name of our profession to hawk its products and imply our endorsement. Is all publicity good publicity? Not in this case.