What is the -WHO- Code?

The WHO Code is the common name for the "International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes," which was adopted by the World Health Organization in 1981. Recognizing that marketing formula is, by definition, an attempt to reduce the number of breastfed babies, and recognizing that breastfeeding is both a vital public health and economic issue, the USA joined with 118 other nations in ratifying the Code.

In plain English

The WHO Code PROHIBITS certain aggressive infant formula marketing strategies, such as:

1. Promoting infant formula through health care facilities
2. Lobbying health care personnel with free gifts
3. Providing free formula samples to new mothers
4. Using words or pictures in advertising which idealize bottle-feeding

The Code also mandates that formula ads and labels include the facts about the benefits of breastfeeding and the hazards associated with formula feeding.

The Code does not prohibit the existence of infant formula nor the choice to bottle-feed. Instead, it seeks to give all women only pure facts about feeding their babies, free of marketing influence, so that they can make free and informed choices. The Code tries to level the playing field so that the superiority of the norm (i.e. breastmilk) — which has no Madison Avenue agency or million dollar-marketing promotions —is not lost in the landslide of formula marketing hype.

Why do we need the code?

The WHO Code addresses the primary underlying reason that many women opt not to breastfeed or try and "fail" to breastfeed in the early weeks.


Aggressive formula marketing reduces the rate of successful breastfeeding;

    Samples and bottles confuse the baby’s ability to suck correctly at the breast and reduce a woman’s milk supply.

    Marketing through doctors and hospitals mislead women to see formula as healthy and/or medically necessary.

    Especially in the Developing world (although developed countries not immune to this either) thousands of babies dying because of contaminated formula. If they survive this they are dying of malnutrition; mothers who cannot afford to buy more formula start to give the babies much thinned mixes to stretch the packages. At this point it is very hard to go back to breastfeeding a the free samples lasted long enough to dry the mother’s milk.