Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Birth Source Inc. and the WHO Code

I recently had a spirited conversation with a sales rep from a breastfeeding supply company that I purchase stock from. Now, first of all I have to admire the sales people that actually show up in person, as most of the time business is done over the phone and by email. I love the Internet and all it has done to unite us from far and wide, but I am a face to face kind of person who likes to see the people I am involved in business with. I like to show them where and how the products they offer are displayed and sold. I want the face of the company they work for to see a small business person who carefully chooses products to serve it's customers.

On this sales call the rep brought along a woman from the company, a marketing person who specializes in merchandising product for retail. This was a pleasant difference for me as I am usually left working out how to properly merchandise products, which believe me is a whole profession on it's own. I am very open to displaying things according to how the company envisions their products. After all they have worked hard to create, produce and market them. I listened carefully to their suggestions agreeing that I could merchandise things a little differently perhaps.

Everything was going great up until the question of why I don't put more of the stock out on the floor was brought up. This is where things went sideways and my relationship with this rep was altered. Now just so you have some background I stock more of this companies products than many I am aware of in my community. I do this because some parts are hard to find and when a Mother needs them, waiting for it to be shipped can be too long in some cases even if it is only a day two. Also I sometimes get referrals for special needs feeders etc. so I keep them in stock. What I don't do is put them out on display in the store. Things like pump parts, extra tubing, nipple shields, bottles and nipples are tucked away in clearly labeled storage containers for when a customer "needs" those things.

The friendly merchandising woman showed me several examples of displays from other stores (one a chain store) with the products hung in neat rows, filling every inch of the shelve space, in like categories, in a convenient self serve fashion for the customers. I agreed it looked great and perhaps my little display could use some jazzing up. I explained that I try to make products as self serve as possible for my customers, however I don't think it is necessary with all the products such as the ones aforementioned. She asked me if it was because of the WHO Code to which I agreed that was indeed part of it and also because I feel it is important to find out what the customer really needs as compared to what they have been told they "might need".

Let's take for example the pregnant couple who came in recently to buy some cloth diapers and asked if I had any nipple shields. A friend had told them it was good to have one on hand to prevent sore nipples. I explained that nipple shields are prescribed by a professional lactation consultant and if not used under the appropriate circumstances they can cause problems as opposed to helping. The key to addressing sore nipples is latching the baby well and getting qualified help with it right away if needed. If there is a legitimate issue with the latch then the professional can encourage the use of one. This way the parents will hopefully receive thorough and accurate information on it's purpose, how to use it properly and how to wean a baby off the shield as well. I could go on and on about nipple shields and my concern about how they are dispensed as a substitute for adequate help, but that isn't the point of this post :) The point is that I listen to my customers and then make suggestions based on the information I gather during a face to face conversation with them. I provide them what they need at that time, not what I can sell them at the time.

Anyway the sales rep and the merchandising lady assured me that if I supplemented my stock and tweaked my merchandising I could double my sales! Now to a business person and store owner this is usually music to the ears, but in this case not so much. I explained that I am not interested in doubling my sales of bottles, nipples and breast shields. I sell pumps to people that "need" pumps not to those that don't. The sales rep then asked me if I tell the customer they can store breast milk in bottles too. I said yes I do and that I am happy to offer them the bottles with solid lids for that purpose but, unfortunately the company doesn't make a kit with that type. I have to purchase them individually. They have a feeding and storage kit complete with bottle, nipples collars etc. She then questioned that by not displaying them am I taking away the "choice" for women. Hmmm... the last time I checked lack of choice for bottle feeding options was not a problem. This was where my face felt warm and my heart rate went up a little. The editing process in my head was hard at work while I responded to this.

I explained that Birth Source Inc. is not typical to most stores in that I interact with my customers on a much different level than say Wal-Mart or Toys R Us etc. I have thorough product knowledge and the education to assist people with buying decisions. I have helped hundreds of women breastfeed to various degrees and that I continually update my knowledge with continuing education. I am sorry but I am not budging on my commitment to following the WHO code.

They seemed to understand what I was saying and stated that their company was committed to breastfeeding first. This is where she called me on the whole WHO code question as she pointed out the fact that I sold soothers and they were out on display. I agreed that was true and explained the special nature of the pacifiers to her, but she made a valid point. So the pacifiers are no longer out on display and available to parents who request them from now on.

The idea that I am somehow taking away choice bothered me for quite sometime afterward. As a doula and childbirth educator I am committed to helping people recognize they have choices and the encouragement to explore them. I am not making any judgements by not openly displaying bottle feeding items or taking away choice from anyone. I am choosing to serve the needs of breastfeeding Mothers, who are very under served in our community. I offer their companies products to women based on their individual and specific needs, educating them on proper care and use of the products and the best customer service possible just as every responsible retailer should. This should be our mutual goal, but somehow it is obvious that it is not.

Peace Out,


  1. One of the reasons that I frequent Birth Source is that I feel like I have MORE choice there, not less. It is one of the few stores in the city that I felt could give me the help with my choice, breastfeeding.
    You are filling a valuable role in our community and city and I appriciate all the choice you gave me and my family!

  2. In a society where there isn't as much support for breastfeeding as bottle feeding, it is important to us who choose to that we have support in doing so. Would I feel more comfortable breastfeeding in your store surrounded by bottles and pumps? Most likely not. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and what many of your customers need. You are unlike any other woman I know. You ROCK!

  3. Thank you both very much for your comments. I was truly offended by her statement. So much so that I am exploring other options.

    Birth Source Inc. sees a lot of women during their pregnancy and often with a first baby. Giving them the impression that they will somehow need these things by having a large display of them, I believe undermines my belief that they will breastfeed their babies.

    If at some point they need to look at other options for collecting and storing milk are, separated from their babies or other circumstances we can also help them with that.

    In my mind that is not taking anyone's choice away!

  4. I very much enjoyed this post and appreciate that you are such an advocate for nursing mothers. There is so much misinformation out there and marketing to make new moms believe that formula is equivalent or even sometimes better than breastmilk that it makes me so sad.

    I do have a question - what is the WHO's recommendation with pacifiers? I know to not use them for the first 6 weeks but do they recommend not using them even past that point? With our son we introduced one at 6 weeks because he would *not* sleep. Even with nursing he wouldn't necessarily fall asleep. He loved the sucking sensation though and it helped him wind down. For us it was a lifesaver.

  5. Hi Connie,

    Thank you for your post I appreciate your feedback.

    The WHO code suggests that artificial methods of feeding and like products including bottle and teats should not be marketed to expectant and new mothers.

    Pacifier use is a choice open to parents and not recommended generally before breastfeeding is well established. This time frame is relative but by six weeks it is hopeful that the breastfeeding relationship is underway and any challenges have been addressed before the introduction of an artificial teat.

    I am glad you were able to both breastfeed and use the pacifier when you needed it without a problem. Some babies just love to suck!

    Thanks again for your input Connie.


  6. And THAT, Tracey is EXACTLY why I love your store! LOVE it! you are great at what you do, thanks for being a supportive presence in our community!


  7. Excellent post Tracey! My daughter is 3.5, so we are well on our way out of the 'gear' phase. We still stop in from time to time to see what's new though, and I follow the site and store on Facebook and email.

    I was so happy to see Birth Source open in our neighborhood, and was a little sad that it wasn't in place when I was in the last stages of pregnancy and early stages of motherhood and nursing. I love that Birth Source is the polar opposite of the overwhelming perfect displays of must-have products you see in the chain stores. Please don't ever change this. The fact that your store is an open, welcoming place where new (and old!) moms can come in to ask questions, seek support and find solutions to whatever they might need makes Birth Source what it is. It's not a just a store, it's an extension of the parenting community. The sales rep didn't want to look beyond the numbers to see what you have helped facilitate. Her loss, but our (the communities) gain. Please keep up the good work!

  8. Tracey,
    Thank-you so much for truly understanding why this is so important. This is why I like to refer my clients to your store.
    I will attest to your thirst for ongoing education, we are always at the same things ;)
    Keep up the Awesome work!