Thursday, 28 February 2013

We're Having a Giveaway

To celebrate the birth of our new Facebook page and blog we're giving away £10 to spend at Lactivist. 

You can find all kinds of funky pro-breastfeeding paraphenalia at Lactivist, including boobeanies hats, sleepsuits and mugs.

Additionally, all Loquacious Lactator fans will receive 10% off at Lactivist by entering the code LACTIVIST at the checkout.

You can enter via the rafflecopter widget as many times as you like.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

#Firsthour Freakout: the media response to a breastfeeding campaign

This week, reputable international charity Save the Children launched an initiative to save the lives of a potential 830000 babies worldwide. In the UK this was met with uproar. Why?
Because it was about breastfeeding.
The Save the Children initiative, called #firsthour, is essentially the publicity launch of its new, extensive report ‘Superfood for Babies’. The report suggests that if more babies born in developing countries were given breastmilk (colostrum, to be precise) in the first hour after their birth this could potentially raise the health profile of these babies enough to save up to 830,000 babies worldwide every year. The report describes colostrum as “the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.”  
‘Superfood for Babies’ is not all about formula milk; that is simply one of the ‘four barriers to [developing world] breastfeeding’ detailed in the report. The others are:

Community and Cultural Pressures - young mothers are often relatively powerless to make infant feeding choices compared to their husbands or mother-in-laws

Lack of Health Care Workers – up to one third of births happen without any trained attendee

And, Lack of Maternity Legislation – maternity leave provision is scarce in the developing world, especially when women have casual and labourious jobs.
The report talks about formula marketing under the heading ‘The Big Business Barrier’. Sadly, the dubious practices of the BMS (breast milk substitute) businesses are nothing new. We know that they have almost universally ignored the 1981 International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code) wherever they can get away with it, and that they have been pushing their product on populations that can barely afford it, and who cannot access clean water or fuel to make it. The BMS businesses sponsor health care professionals (think, free pens and prescription pads) in order to increase infiltration of their product and encourage midwives to tell new mothers that their breastmilk isn’t nutritional enough for their babies. In just a couple of generations this dubious message has become common ‘knowledge’ and resulted in the deaths and illnesses of millions of children who, with breastmilk, could have been saved.
This is horrible. So why the uproar? Well, tucked away at the bottom of page 45 in the report (remember, this is a report focussing on developing countries), in the recommendations section, one tiny paragraph:

While the International Code states that companies must include health warnings and details of the benefits of breastfeeding, in practice these warnings cover a small proportion of packaging, are written in small type and are designed to be unobtrusive. To strengthen the power of these warnings, national laws should specify that health warnings should cover one third of any breast-milk substitute packaging.
Cue Daily Mail screaming about ‘cigarette style warnings’, rolling our Claire Byam Cook to tell us that it will pile guilt on UK mums (and, by the way, breastfeeding isn’t that great anyway), and over one thousand comments like this one:
oh that's the way to go, make all of us who cannot breastfeed feel worse than the world already makes us do! my daughter was allergic to breastmilk and soya formula for her was the best thing since sliced bread give the formula companies a medal for saving all us mothers and babies but I swear if I have to justify it anymore to show-off naturalists like that lot I will scream!

And that wasn’t all. People have been calling for others to stop giving money to Save the Children, Mylene Klass, one of the campaign’s celebrity faces, has had to defend herself on Twitter, and many blogs, like this one, have decried the recommendation as ‘blood boiling’. The Telegraph printed a particularly vitriolic personal account of yet another Western white woman who stopped breastfeeding and now doesn’t want to be made to feel guilty about it (and, by the way, breastfeeding isn’t all that great anyway).

Well sorry, but I don’t care. Despite the fact that the Daily Mail’s original outrage was entirely hyperbolic because the Save the Children report doesn’t talk about UK formula, but rather urges individual countries to enforce the recommendation themselves, and despite the fact that one could argue that UK formula is often exported and therefore should have large warnings just in case it ends up in a developing country, I still don’t care. I don’t want a single woman anywhere to feel guilty about her infant feeding choices, but this is one occasion on which sparing the feelings of relatively affluent Western women is not anywhere near as important as saving the lives of over three quarters of a million children.
In the only sensible article that I have read on the subject, Ros Wynne-Jones asks “ our world really so unfairly weighted that the hurt, guilty feelings of a minority of western women count more than an annual loss of life that's three times the death toll of the 2004 tsunami?” The absolute bottom line is that this isn’t another excuse to have a pop at the ‘breastfeeding mafia’ or an opportunity to talk about any individuals painful nipples, this is a chance to save the lives of human beings. The British media have entirely missed the point by focussing on the warning label issue but, for the record, I would happily contend with one third warning labels on anything I buy if it could make a positive difference to that many families.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

I breastfed my baby but...

If you’ve ever been inclined to read the bottom half of the internet when it comes to breastfeeding articles then, apart from the usual ‘formula is just as good’ and the occasional troll-like ‘bitty!’ comment you’ll almost always find somebody explaining that, while they breastfed themselves, they were extremely careful not to rub it in anyone’s face.  These comments often go along the lines of ‘I breastfed my baby for eight months but I think that the breastfeeding mafia go too far’.  Or ‘I am pro breastfeeding but I think that it’s everyone’s personal choice’. Here is a real example:

Breast milk or formula...who cares. What's important is your child is fed. I'm a breastfeeding mom and I don't pres my views onto others. If you want to give your child formula....great! Go for it. I hate how everyone seems to have a view on how other children are raised and fed. Get out of other people's business.

This breastfeeding ‘mom’ has carefully aligned herself with the cultural premise of personal choice and distanced herself from those who have an opinion about (breast) feeding. This seems to be a popular position. Breastfeeding mothers are in the ideal position to criticize ‘lactivists’ because they can’t be accused of feeling bitter due to guilt (as formula feeding mothers sometimes sadly feel). They can say ‘look, I breastfeed but I’m not going on about it’. This kind of political positioning seems to be highly acceptable.

Women (and the occasional man) who do hold strong opinions about breastfeeding, however, tend to be vilified. It’s acceptable, even in mainstream media, to label us as ‘mafia’, ‘breastapo’, and ‘nazis’ amongst others. I used the term ‘lactivist’ tentatively above because, although it’s been somewhat successfully reclaimed, it still has negative connotations. I don’t actually know what term to use.

Of course, one reason for the objection is that our opinions offend people. Most Western parents give their babies formula milk. If you suggest that formula milk, on balance, is potentially harmful and that breastmilk should be the norm that’s going to irk a whole lot of people. Nobody wants to be told that they are putting their child at risk and some are going to respond by shooting the messenger. It’s not a new idea amongst breastfeeding commentators that the phrase ‘breast is best’ is harmful to the cause because it carries the implicit message that formula feeding is standard; most people are satisfied with being standard and suspicious of overachievers.  A preferred message is that breastfeeding is normal, but then the implication is that formula feeding is inferior. What would happen if that was the explicit message: formula is potentially harmful? Respondents to this very question of my Facebook page were pretty sure that this would not be met gladly. In this area of public health we’re more concerned with ensuring that we don’t offend those who have already made a choice than providing information to those who are yet to make one.

Another potential reason why the general population seem to be turned off by the ‘breastfeeding gang’ is that we’re perceived as being a bit weird. While I cannot even pretend for one second that I have any data to back up this assertion, parents who are interested enough in breastfeeding to get political about it are often the same parents who babywear, use cloth nappies (or EC), baby-led wean, co-sleep, and buy organic produce. We’re hippies. And it’s easy to take the mick out of a hippy. Of course, I’m not supposing that this is always the case. There’s a spectrum. But it’s about perceptions. That’s why it’s so important for us ‘booby mob’ to flag it up each time a famous woman says she’s nursing; it raises the profile of breastfeeding as a whole (sadly, accompanying articles invariably talk about ‘baby weight’ loss, but I must be careful not to complain about everything).

Whilst I don’t have the space or inclination to pick apart the minutiae of it here, one element that shouldn’t be dismissed when trying to establish why the ‘nursing clan’ are so utterly vilified is feminism. I will undoubtedly be invited into a boxing match of fact presenting for announcing this, but I am a feminist. I sincerely believe that a person’s sex or gender shouldn’t define their opportunities. I don’t think that men and women automatically display different traits (not all men are ‘masculine’ and not all women are ‘feminine’) but I do think that we’re foolish if we try to ignore sex altogether; biological males can’t get pregnant and they can’t breastfeed. There is a brand of feminism that argues that women are not viewed as equal – particularly in the workplace – because they are forced by society to undertake the burden of the majority of child rearing. I’m not saying that this is not true, but this type of feminism would have it that breastfeeding is one of the causes of this and that, just like modern science gave us the Pill to give women freedom of reproduction, it also gives us formula milk to free us from the shackles of lactation.

To my mind, feminism should not be about establishing methods to allow women to become more male-like to increase their chances in a patriarchal workplace, it should be about respecting and valuing femaleness, one defining factor of which is our ability to perfectly nourish an infant. In a recent collection of self-promoting articles, professor of gender studies Joan Wolf asserts that the old adage that breastfeeding is free is untrue because it supposes that a woman’s time is worth nothing. She uses this as an argument against breastfeeding, but other researchers have suggested that this is, instead, an argument against the devaluing of women and of their contribution (via breastmilk) to the health and wellbeing of society. Wolf invites readers to “imagine if men had functioning mammary glands. Would breastfeeding seem as urgent? Or would we say that its benefits were marginal...?” I’d like to suggest that we certainly would see breastfeeding as urgent. We’d throw resources into examining breast milk and proving its fabulous properties, and we’d establish a culture that allowed for men to continue to nurse while continuing to add value to society in other ways, such as on site crèche facilities, breastfeeding in the boardroom, and lengthy paternity leave at full pay. This would ultimately benefit everyone.

Us ‘bap chaps’ (nah, that’s crap) need to be aware of how we are perceived by others but this shouldn’t stop us being political. It’s fine to have an opinion about infant feeding. It’s good to want parents to have the correct information. And it’s great to try to change the world. In fact, it’s not about changing the world; it’s about reversing the damage. Damage that has created financial gain for one industry and resulted in measured harm to the rest of society. So shoot the messenger, but it won’t be in my back because I’ll be facing you and I’ll be speaking my message.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Making Feeding that Little Bit More Simple: Unpicking Mothercare's Innosense Ad

I've been watching the response to the latest Mothercare ad with interest. The interesting bit is that, even on pages aimed at breastfeeding mothers, most people are fairly sure that there’s nothing wrong with the advert at all. To be fair, if you’re an advertising executive or a multinational baby kit supplier, the ad is pretty awesome. If you’re interested in increasing the rate of breastfeeding prevalence for the benefit of mothers, children, and society at large then it’s somewhat crappy. Let's examine why:

It Contravenes the WHO Code

Ad execs love breastfeeding
The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was drawn up in Geneva in 1981 and subsequently agreed to by many countries, including the UK. It recognises that the advertising and promoting of certain products fundamentally undermines breastfeeding. Most people are aware that advertising infant formula is against the code (a clause which formula companies have side-stepped by heavily advertising almost identically labelled ‘follow on’ milks suitable from six months) but the WHO code also applies to bottles and teats. It’s actually irrelevant whether the bottle is full of expressed breastmilk, formula, or caramel latte; it’s the bottle and teat that’s against the rules.

Article 5.3 of The Code says that there should be “ point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples, or any other promotional device to induce sales directly to the consumer at the retail level such as special displays...” I wonder if Mothercare's extensive programme of posters, television advertisements , website and youtube promotions count as a ‘special display’.

It Pretends to be Pro-Breastfeeding

The TV ad starts with a Mum breastfeeding a baby in a creepily clean house. I say ‘breastfeeding’, the baby is shown to be latched on (which is further than most ads go, I’ll grant) but active mouth movements are obviously a step too far. A mere 25 seconds in Mum is transported to the kitchen and it’s Dad’s turn to gaze at the baby. Mum pops the lid on one of the fantasta-bottles, which contains some white liquid, and brings it over to Dad: bottle in mouth, smiling Dad, sleeping baby, smiling Mum, family cuddles. The whole ad is underpinned by Mum’s disembodied whisper about how much she loves baby, and it’s interesting to note that words like “protect” and “amazing” are rolled out when the bottle is in shot.

Not from the ad
Now, I’m not saying that bottles have no place in breastfeeding. Many parents find that ability to leave expressed milk for their babies when they go to work or elsewhere means that they can avoid formula altogether. That’s great. Important also are the Mums who tirelessly express milk to preserve their supply while breastfeeding problems are ironed out. But this ad shows neither of these scenarios. The Mum is in the same bloomin’ room. The whole thing rides on the back of years of formula marketing which profligates the message that Dads should bottle feed in order to bond with baby, along with thousands of ‘well-meaning’ mother-in-laws in a chorus of “you’re hogging that child”. We now know that the action of a baby suckling is the best way to balance milk supply and that breastfeeding isn't simply about the milk itself, but about the physical act of feeding. We know, for instance, that the mother's body ‘reads’ pathogens from the baby and their shared environment to produce milk with the required antibodies for that point in time, and that milk produced for a three month old has a different composition to the milk of a toddler. Pumping, storing and bottle feeding is not an equal alternative. Necessary sometimes, but not equal, and certainly not required for Dad to bond. And that’s without even touching on the potential for nipple confusion or overfeeding that are associated with the use of a bottle.

Poster campaign
The accompanying poster ad, for some reason, seems to have gone in a completely different direction, proclaiming that a smorgasbord of bottles, teats and sterilisers are “everything you need to feed your baby”... except the boobs. They don’t say that last bit, which is kind of the problem.

It's Extraordinarily Pleased with Itself

The Innosense bottle’s tagline is ‘feeding from a new angle’ alluding to the fact that somebody has made the teat a bit jaunty to reduce the swallowing of air. The tagline for the entire range (as far as I can gather) is ‘making feeding that little bit more simple’. If Mothercare were really honest they’d concede that having to use a heap of accessories is always going to make feeding quite a lot more complicated, actually, and that there’s nothing wrong with whatever angle Mum’s boobs happen to sit at. Of course, as with all of this kind of advertising there is a queue of people ready to denounce anyone who complains as petty, over-thinking, and of being a member of the ‘breastapo’. What that doesn't take into account is that advertising makes a difference to more than just the people who are deciding what to buy. The Analytical Armadillo put it succinctly (if not cynically) when she said “Adverts don't influence what people use/buy, they're just a way for very rich companies to get rid of spare cash - they're actually a source of unbiased information, ask any marketing exec....” Of course, if the opposite were not true there wouldn't be billions spent on making us decide what to eat, wear, buy and think. Anyone who considers that they are not affected by advertising is, I’m afraid, utterly naive.

That said, I sincerely wish that the defenders are right. I hope that this blog post and all the complaints about Mothercare's most recent endeavour represent a massive waste of breath because the Innosense range will have no bearing whatsoever on any future breastfeeding relationship. I fear that my wish is in vain.

Michelle Atkin's awesome spoof of the Mothercare ad. Check out her breastfeeding coach page here.