I’ve been pretty vocal about how I honor the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes (the WHO Code or International Code) and why I think careful consideration of issues regarding sponsorship is warranted. I don’t consider myself a hardliner; I’m not boycotting anything or refusing to recommend certain products. I am also aware, as I’ve made many of my own personal choices as a parent, that everyone chooses what works best for their families and—I cannot emphasize this enough—I believe that everyone deserves information and support.
What happens when these principles are at odds with self-promotion? Most people don’t have blogs and encourage a following on their social media accounts if they’re content with sitting around and waiting for things to happen. Anyone who has a blog and Facebook page is constantly selling themselves. Anyone who is a private practice birth or lactation professional needs to sell themselves. You can’t expect others to do it for you. We seek out opportunities to connect with other organizations, businesses, causes, or individuals to achieve various goals: we want to inform, educate, support, create change, and be seen as experts.
I got excited when I saw that MommyCon was looking for a lactation professional or two to help with breastfeeding questions at their Lactation Lounge in each of their locations. It looked like a fun opportunity to do several things that I love: connect with families, talk about boobs all day, and meet people who are famous in the circles I run in. I applied, and had a phone interview where I was offered the (unpaid) gig. And I accepted.
Now, MommyCon has a business model where they receive specific corporate sponsorship for individual speakers—Cloth Diapering 101 presented by Cotton Babies, for example. Knowing this, I specifically asked if the Lactation Lounge would have a name attached to it. I did my research ahead of time. I found things like a Facebook post calling it the “lactation lounge” and a tweet saying it’s the “Nursing Lounge.”* I didn’t see anything directly associating the lactation/nursing lounge with a company, although the other areas (like the babywearing lounge) were. When I asked if it was named anything other than the Lactation Lounge, I was told no. When I asked about sponsorship, I was told that MommyCon does not have a specific WHO Code guideline, that their sponsor that is a pump company is non-WHO-Code-compliant Evenflo, and that Evenflo would not have bottles at their booth. Although I wasn’t super thrilled with the idea of Evenflo being a sponsor (or with a lactation cookie company having samples in the lactation area, for that matter), I figured the pros for me and for families still outweighed the cons. I could deal with that. I was looking forward to it.
Then, the next day, I saw this:
Posting about this whole thing to my personal Facebook wall got some varied responses. Some people thought I made the right call to probe for more information and, when I didn’t get good answers, decline the spot. Others thought I was being silly. Some were undecided. We had a great conversation about the WHO Code and what it means to individual parents. The thing is: It means nothing for families and it’s not meant to. It’s a policy document for governments and industries and organizations. It’s also part of the code of ethics of a CLC or IBCLC to abide by it, and, because I try to be really ethical even if it sucks, I would have to decline for that reason alone.
But even more, I knew that I had no control over how my involvement would be promoted and what could be said, and I have a duty to myself and my future (I hope!) profession to avoid the appearance of affiliation with any particular brands. I can stand strategically while taking a selfie to cover up a company logo; I can’t stop future tweets that connect me with brands.
I share this story not because I wish to make anyone look bad, but because sometimes doing the ethical thing is not the easy thing, and it never hurts to put it out there that others have struggled with these issues. While we may come to different conclusions, I challenge all other lactation professionals to look at not only what is getting them business now, but what it may bring for the future, especially in this time of social media.
*Since I’m an editor, I pay attention to the capitalization, or inconsistency thereof. Capitalization implies that it’s the name of the area, not a generic term, although inconsistency with capitalization implies other things. /nerd