Breast milk, bottles or... single-serve brew cups?

The Globe and Mail

Marie-Helene Pradon, Sales Director of the BabyNes Division, holds two capsules next to the new milk bottles machine after a news conference at Nestle research centre in Vers-chez-les-Blancs, near Lausanne May 25, 2011. (DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)

Call it the baby milk backlash.

Food giant Nestlé is launching a new baby formula machine that uses capsules to deliver warm, properly-dosed servings of milk for babies. The machined, called BabyNes, operates similarly to Nespresso and other coffee machines that use single-serve brew cups.

The company, which is initially only marketing the BabyNes system in Switzerland, is touting the machine's convenience and ease.

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But consumers around the world are already accusing the company of undermining efforts to get women to breastfeed and promoting its products to the detriment of babies.

The website PoliticsRespun slammed the company in a piece titled "Nestlé's War on Breastfeeding Mothers Takes Shameful New Turn."

Some Twitter users weren't as generous.

"Nestle Hates Babies & the Environment," one user wrote Thursday, while another simply wrote "I just puked. Really? That's just obscene, Nestle."

The debate over formula versus breast feeding is not new. But Nestlé's new invention has reignited anger among critics who accuse it and other companies of trying to promote formula feeding instead of breast feeding.

Although women who choose to bottle or breastfeed defend either as their choice, critics say many women who choose formula likely don't realize the influence companies such as Nestlé have over that decision.

The issue, according to PoliticsRespun, is "the societal pressure on women to choose bottle feeding as an option of convenience."

Many hospitals, for instance, provide formula to mothers after giving birth instead of helping them learn to breastfeed. (Groups such as the World Health Organization recommend babies be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old).

Companies have also successfully marketed bottle feeding as the easier, more convenient and even more "civilized" option than breastfeeding.

Such efforts have been so successful that only a fraction of women breast feed their children up to the recommended six months of age and bottle feeding is seem by many as the norm.

In Canada, about 90 per cent of new mothers breastfeed their children when they are born. But by three months, only half are still exclusively breastfeeding, according to a 2009 study. By six months, only 14 per cent of Canadian mothers exclusively breastfeed.

Breastfeeding offers many advantages over formula, such as reducing infections, boosting the immune system and even preventing obesity. Other studies have found breastfeeding has a positive effect on behaviour, but those results have not been well proven.

Nestlé was also at the centre of a backlash against its formula marketing practices a few decades ago after numerous African babies died when their mothers mixed powdered milk with contaminated water.

Nestlé and other formula makers say they are simply offering a choice to women and that they firmly support the idea of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life. Nestlé could not be reached for comment.

But critics who point to the highly successful marketing of formula in developed countries such as Canada aren't buying it and say mothers shouldn't either.

Despite the backlash, the business for baby formula is still booming. Time will tell how the BabyNes plays into that.

How do you feel about baby milk that comes from coffee machine?