In 1981 the WHO, UNICEF, scientific bodies, and formula companies themselves developed a code of ethical marketing of infant formula, bottles, and artificial nipples and any food or drink that could replace breastmilk in the diet.

This was done due to the shocking numbers of tragic, senseless deaths of so many babies who had been fed food other than human milk

The WHO/UNICEF code was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. It is not legally binding but some countries have legislated its provisions.

Canada has not legislated the WHO Code, therefore making it optional.

The code basically bans all marketing of bottle-feeding to the public and sets out certain requirements for labelling and information on infant feeding.

Unfortunately, the WHO Code is violated every single day in Canada. The general public at large is not aware of this Code and how these violations impact our health care system and the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.

The formula companies are very powerful and wealthy and that gets them their own way in most marketing scenarios.

Any ‘activity’ which undermines breastfeeding also violates the goal, and spirit of the Code.

Here are some of the provisions set out by the WHO Code:

Baby food companies must not:



  • promote their products through hospitals or shops  or directly to the general public or in the media, including the Internet.

  • Give free or reduced-price samples of formula to pregnant women, mothers or their families

  • Provide free or subsidized supplies  to hospitals or maternity wards

  • give gifts to health workers or mothers

  • advertise their products to health workers. Any information must contain scientific facts

  • promote foods or drinks for babies

  • Give misleading information.

  • There should be no contact between baby milk company sales pesonnel and mothers or their families

  • labels must be in a language understood in the country and must include clear health warnings

  • baby pictures must not be shown on milk labels

  • Labels must not include language  that idealizes the use of the product