A colleague of mine recently undertook the monumental task of purchasing everything she needed for her new (and first) baby’s nursery.
She recalls standing in a popular baby store, feeling completely overwhelmed by the seemingly endless amount of prams, cots, monitors, car seats, nappy bags, high chairs, bouncers, toys, wipes…and having to pick which one is best for her baby. A baby she hasn’t even met yet.
Fortunately, my colleague is a smart woman, and had done her research about which products have high safety ratings, which products are best-sellers, she had read up on past product recalls. She really had done all her homework.
There seems to be an endless amount of consumer-focused resources for new mothers, enabling them to make informed choices about which products they buy.
But what happens when there is insufficient information to make a choice about a product?
It’s unlikely that you would buy a car seat if there was no way to fully comprehend all of the intricate parts and safety features that differentiate one model or brand from another, and feel confident in your decision. So why is infant formula any different?
Now, I know better than anyone that breast milk, with its unique and unsurpassed benefits, is the best for babies. But I also know, because of the work that I do, that when a baby is not breastfed, the only suitable alternative is a scientifically-developed infant formula product.
But, not all products are the same.
Last year, the Infant Nutrition Council (INC) commissioned research into the behaviours and informational needs of Australian mothers to enable them to make informed choices about the right infant formula for their baby.
The results are concerning. One in three mothers felt as though they received insufficient information from packaging when buying formula for the first time, and almost half of the respondents (43 per cent) did not understand the role of the ingredients in the formula they were buying.
So what does that mean for the forty percent of mothers who buy formula at the shelf? How can they be sure that they are making an informed decision if they are confused about ingredients and do not have access to sufficient information?
There is an abundance of information and support available for breastfeeding mothers, but for the mothers and carers who are unable to breastfeed, the information that is available is inadequate. The majority of mothers who use infant formula rely on the provision of factual information from health care practitioners, but this is often restricted by local feeding guidelines that discourage contact between health professionals and formula companies.
There are many reasons why mothers do not breastfeed and need to use infant formula. Some mothers are adoptive or foster mothers, some have lactation failure and some are undergoing treatment for certain illnesses. Some mothers breast feed for a period of time and then when returning to work start using infant formula. How do these mothers make the best decisions about infant formula for their babies?
With the Food Standard Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) currently reviewing the Standard 2.9.1 (Infant Formula Products), the INC is advocating for a number of changes to the labelling of infant formula products, such as more information on ingredients, feeding instructions, allergy information and preparation instructions, so that these mothers and carers feel confident in the decisions they make for their babies.
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Likewise, for a lot of mothers and carers, cost plays a big part in their decision-making processes. With the current on-pack labelling restrictions prohibiting the use of nutrient content and function claims on infant formula products, consumers are struggling to clearly understand why one product costs $15 and another is priced at $30. Consumers will pay more for premium products if they can see the benefits versus a lower-priced product – but with the information currently available on infant formula products, as it stands, there is simply no way to tell.
Being a mother is tough. Mothers are constantly under pressure to make the right decisions for their babies and for themselves, day in, day out. And, every mother will tell you that making sure that their babies get the right nutrients so that they can grow and develop is one of the most important priorities by far. Improved labelling is the only way that mothers and carers who use infant formula products can do just that.
Did you bottle feed your baby? Which formula did you choose?