“It feels like a slap in the face”: Women’s stories of receiving infant formula samples after pregnancy loss or stillbirth

Infant formula companies are notorious for mailing unrequested product samples to pregnant women after obtaining personal medical information via predatory marking practices. Many pregnant women on formula companies’ target lists suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth but subsequently receive formula samples in the mail.  

Receiving formula samples by mail is not uncommon; in one study, 57% of mothers reported getting samples of formula packages[1]. Since 10 to 15% of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage[2] this inevitably leads to a number of grieving women receiving unwanted formula samples.

Formula companies employ unscrupulous methods to routinely track and monitor the internet activity of women who are pregnant or may be pregnant, in order to send products to their doorsteps[3]. Many expecting and new mothers use apps and websites for parenting-related information and resources. Users of these apps and websites are often asked for personal information such as due dates, zip codes, and email addresses. However, the “fine print” within privacy policies of such apps and sites declares the geographic location of their device may be used to send emails, product samples, and promotions[4][5]. This information is often “shared” (sold) to “partners,” including formula companies pursuing potential customers.

With a couple of clicks on a keyboard (perhaps to make a search as simple as “pregnancy symptoms” or “what is my due date?”), women who may have only recently discovered their pregnancies, or merely suspect pregnancy, are added to a list of targets for formula companies who use mothers’ anticipated due dates as a timeline for sending sample products.

This begs the question: How can we ensure the grief of bereaved mothers is not amplified? The global formula is an estimated $55 billion (USD) industry that uses persistent and insidious marketing, which is often not recognized as marketing[6].

Kelley was faced with unwanted formula samples in her mail shortly after her baby’s funeral. “We received the invoice from the monument company for my son’s headstone that same day,” Kelley says. “It was quite a collection of mail waiting for me.”

“Receiving formula in the mail happened multiple times after my first loss,” Audrey recalls. “It reopened a wound that wasn’t ready for unexpected and unsolicited reminders.”

“At my first doctor appointment, a miscarriage was confirmed,” Rosie M. says. “I deleted the apps so I wouldn’t continue to get updates every week…Flash forward to due date month, and I got the formula package. I was so confused and my heart hurt once again.”

“It feels like a slap in the face, a punch to the gut,” Caitlin C. says, after discovering formula samples at her door following two second-trimester losses. “If [the formula company] somehow knew I was pregnant, couldn’t they also know I’m not anymore?”

Amy also described the feeling as “a punch to the gut” as she explains her experience after her 21-week loss. “About two weeks before my original due date I received a package in the mail with a container of infant formula and a baby bottle…there was no way of avoiding the big box that showed up on my front door.” 

Another mother, Marie H, tells us “One of the hardest experiences was receiving baby formula samples in the mail as I was approaching her due date.” Marie says receiving unwanted formula samples after her miscarriage reminded her that there would be “no baby coming, so much more real and painful.”

No grieving woman should have to tolerate formula companies’ marauding for new customers. Worldwide, 23 million women experience pregnancy loss each year.[7] Formula marketing is problematic in many ways, and unwanted mailed samples are just one of these issues causing surprise and emotional trauma for many of these grieving women. Formula companies must be more responsible for their marketing techniques. While formula companies often suggest they have the best interests of families at heart, they need to stop their currently predatory marketing. We call on formula companies to discontinue their formula marketing techniques involving free mailed samples.

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