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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breasts, Babble, Boycotts and Bashing. Baffled?

.... And so it begins.  Or maybe I should say "So it continues". Throwing around words like "guilt" and "shame" in the world of breastfeeding activism is not a new thing, but this week it's reached epic proportions. I've been following the conversations between the different parties that are involved and I've been involved in several discussions on the ethics and  rights that are being called into question.....I cannot understand what people do not understand.  It's very clear cut and completely black and white:

Infant Formula Advertising and Marketing Is BAD.

I guess that this weeks foray into the realm of lactivist bashing and oh so dramatic exclamations of

"Oh the SHAME of it all!!  You're making me feel so GUILTY!" 

...all started just over  year ago when PhD In Parenting author Annie wrote an article entitled "Similac and Babble team up to Dupe breastfeeding moms."  Talking about the fact that yet again an infant formula company is preying on tired new moms and pretending to have their best interests at heart.... when in fact both Babble and Similac are both more interested in the bottom line. Money.

 "...if you were an online media property that is trying to turn a profit, would you be willing to sell-out your breastfeeding readers, by feeding them a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Would you be willing to partner with Similac, an infant formula company, on your Breastfeeding Guide?I wouldn’t. But apparently Babble and Similac see nothing wrong with this scenario.
Most of us (including Dou-la-la and I) realize that infant formula companies are not really there to support breastfeeding moms, they are there to sabotage them. The Similac sponsorship of the Babble guide goes beyond simple advertising and takes things to a whole new level. The Common Breastfeeding Problems section of the Breastfeeding Guide is clearly marked as being “brought to you by Similac“. It includes a large banner at the top encouraging you to call a Feeding Expert for your baby’s breastfeeding problems. They indicate that “lactation consultants” are available, but I doubt they are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), since their Code of Ethics would prevent them from working for an infant formula company."

Fast forward a year later and announces that they are going to give out 10 prizes of $5000 to their top "mominated" moms in 10 different categories, and they want people to nominate those amazing women who deserved the recognition for the work they do.  A friend of ours, Jodine Chase, nominated Emma Kwasnica, founder of Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Lactivist and empowered birth activist, to Babble.... and we all cheered.   No one deserved recognition for her outstanding contributions to society and the empowerment of women and babies more than Emma, and within a few short days, Emma's "momination" had her in third place with over 700 votes without any self-promotion at all.
But then we had a reality check.  Babble was a notorious abuser of the WHO (World Health Organization) International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes, who accepted money from Infant formula companies and allowed their ads to air even in the middle of their breastfeeding advice section of their website.  This REALLY concerned Emma.  We talked about whether or not good could come from accepting this soiled money if she won.  Could we use it to fund an event to highlight the impact of WHO Code violations and how infant formula marketing effects breastfeeding? After many agonizing hours of discussion with many concerned supporters and friends Emma decided that she could not allow her nomination to continue, and she requested that her name be dropped from the Babble competition.  Jodine writes about this decision and gives an outline of what took place in her article "Babbling about Breasts Again" 
But also within a few hours Emma and I were pinged with PMs. Did I know about the controversy that erupted last year over's acceptance of ads from Abbott's infant formula brand, Similac? Did I know that Similac ads for their breastfeeding support hotline appeared alongside breastfeeding advice? Did I know that when you search for the word "breastfeeding" in's search window, the first result that appears is a page describing horrific breastfeeding problems, and right alongside there is Similac's ad, offering to help?
I didn't know this. Up here in Canada the ads displayed on's website were for things like juice and batteries. 
The last thing in the world I want is for Emma Kwasnica's good name to be tainted. And tainted it could be, through association with a formula company seeking to increase market share by offering self-serving advice and understanding to women with breastfeeding problems. Or worse, a company that combats a stagnant market for its product by countering proven public health advice and offering what some say is sabotage disguised as support.

Annie, from PhD in Parenting, wrote another article in support of Emma withdrawing her nomination, and sums up the question about using soiled money very clearly:
Recently, I wrote a blog post questioning whether good cancels out evil. There is no question that the $50,000 that Babble will be giving to inspirational moms will go to excellent causes. But if that money came from duping breastfeeding moms, can it make up for the damage that is done? The cost of formula feeding is significant. In terms of the price of formula alone, I saved around $2400 by breastfeeding both of my children. Beyond the cost of formula, a significant study last year found that the United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs each year and also suffers 911 preventable deaths because of low breastfeeding rates. Suddenly, the $50,000 in “blood money” that Babble is handing out seems like nothing compared with the significant cost that comes with sabotaging a mother’s ability to breastfeed her child successfully.
Apparently Babble is not taking this withdrawal very well.  Instead of taking a good look at their website and the ethical ramifications of taking money from formula companies and allowing them to place ads all over their site, instead of making changes that would insure that mothers got the best possible advice about breastfeeding and that they would received support that wasn't hell bent on making money off them, Babble decided to launch their own campaign to play the "Oh woe is me" card.  Instead they played on the emotions of "Shame" and "Guilt".

Babble writer Catherine Connors writes:  
Because herein resides the problem: I’m not against formula advertising. I’m just not. I’m against bad formula advertising: I’m against misleading formula advertising, and formula advertising that actively and explicitly undermines breastfeeding, and I’m against formula advertising to vulnerable communities. 
...and she launches into a diatribe about "the shame" of it all.

I hate to tell you this Catherine, but regardless of your opinion about "good or bad" formula marketing and advertisements, the truth is in the studies:  ALL formula advertising and marketing directly interferes with breastfeeding initiation and longevity rates- world wide.  Hence the creation of the WHO Code.  ....and Shame?  Really? Do we shame families when we tell them to keep their baby rear facing in their car seat?  NO, we are just relaying the facts: rear facing is safer.  It's not about "Shame". It's about acknowledging the facts and stating the truth. Formula marketing directly affects breastfeeding.  Truth.  You can dispute it, or put a fancy name on it, or misdirect it all you want.  Truth is truth. Just as it is truth to talk about the risks of infant formula, risks that are conveniently swept under the rug by Babble and their formula manufacturing accomplices.  Even a vacuum can't hide the fact that infant formula is vastly inferior to breastmilk in every way.  Read "The fourteen risks of formula feeding" for the real information. Read "Breastfeeding protection and the International Code" to fully understand the ramifications of formula marketing on our children's health.

In response to Catherine's blog Jodine goes on to summarize the "shame" issue perfectly in her next article "Shame is the new guilt"
For a while founder Rufus Griscom hung out on Annie's site, answered a few questions and tried out his rationalizing messaging, now more finely tuned and apparent in Catherine's writing. Here's how it goes: the winner in the infant formula market share race will be the one who makes moms feel the most warm, the most fuzzy, when they need to turn to formula after their breastfeeding plans have gone awry. Offering the very best and most supportive breastfeeding advice is clearly the way to make moms feel all warm and fuzzy.
In addition to refining the warm fuzzies messaging, there's a new angle. Here's the spin: mothers make their own choices and decisions about breastfeeding. If for any reason they have chosen infant formula, and especially if that was a difficult choice because they really wanted to keep breastfeeding, any attempt to talk about formula company marketing tactics, and the harm they cause, is shaming mothers.
Did you catch that? The winning infant formula company will be the one that succeeds in making moms feel warm and fuzzy. Talking about the harm caused by these marketing tactics makes moms feel shame.

 It's all very nice that Babble wants to convince us that formula advertising is all ok.  That Babble owners
 "believe in the right of mothers to make individual choices with all information available to them and that includes information about different formula options, provided both by our writers and advertisers themselves."
...and even went so far as to offer Emma a position on their imaginary board of breastfeeding advocate advisers to review the Breastfeeding resources they will make available to women on Babble.  But as Emma responded to Alisa and Rufus, "The only way I would consider working on an advisory board for Babble, is if Babble were to instigate a zero tolerance policy for all formula advertising across the site --no exceptions. This is a question of ethics; the advertising of formula to pregnant or new mothers, in any capacity, is unacceptable."  A question of Ethics, NOT Shame. 

A long while ago I wrote an article called "Breastfeeding: Guilt, Statistics, Support, and making a choice", where I said:
 This is the story that we hear constantly.  Parents-to-be take a class in childbirth, read books about all the important things you're suppose to know about babies, they give birth to these wonderfully beautiful beings and are sent on their way home to enjoy their new family life...
Mothers know they're suppose to breastfeed their babies.  They know it's the healthiest choice and will give their babies the best start in life- offering them some of their mothers immunities and some vital protection from diseases, lessening their risks of diabetes, certain cancers, obesedy, and maybe even increase their IQ by a few points along the way.  As an added bonus, mom's are offered some protection from breast & ovarian cancer, post partum depression and might even loose that baby wieght a bit faster!!  And it's FREE!!  Over all it's a "win-win" situation, right?  
But what happens when that mother gets home? She probably tired, maybe sore from the birth, perhaps dealing with unexpected trauma from the birth of her baby: inductions, forcept/vacuum assisted birth, episiotomy, Caesarean section..(all of which are known to have a negative effect on breastfeeding)..?  Is the baby sleepy because of medical interventions used during his birth?  "How is he feeding?  Does he have a good latch?" are the questions a new mum might hear, but how the hell is a new mom suppose to know?!   One book said that breastfeeding is hard and it can hurt, another book said that breastfeeding is natural and only hurts if there is a problem with the baby's latch.  One book says to nurse the baby for 10 minutes on each side every 2 hours, one book says to nurse the baby on demand when ever they want to eat.  One web site says that this is the best nursing position, one site says that that position will cause blocked ducts and will cause problems because you can't see the baby's latch. One nurse in the hospital told her to use this method to get the baby to latch, but the night time nurse told her that it was wrong and she should use this method instead.  This is what we call a recipe for failure- before this baby is even a week old, he's already on the road to bottles of formula because his exhausted stressed out mother is unsure of anything to do with breastfeeding.  She can't get any support to make breastfeeding work for her or give her the confidence to persevere and keep nursing regardless of any issues that might arise. The emotionally wrung out mother goes to the doctor with her crying baby and begs for help and advice.  The doctor is affraid to cause her guilt about breastfeeding, or has no interest/education in lactation management, so instead of sending her to the right people to get proper support and advice, he pats her on the back and tells her it's ok, some women/babies just can't breastfeed and that formula feeding would be so much easier because then her husband/mother/sister could feed the baby and let her sleep.  He gives her a perscription for some sleeping/anti depressants/anti anxiety pills and sends her on her way with a gift pack of formula samples and a book of coupons for free baby bottles and matching diaper bag.
Then the Media make s a big production about how women are MADE to feel guilty about not breastfeeding. 
Guilt?!  The last thing this mother should feel is guilt!!!!
This woman should be rip roaring mad!!  She should be stomping her feet and demanding WHY she didn't have the support and information she needed to do something that women have been doing for a millennia!! She has nothing to feel guilty for- she was failed by every single person and place she went to to look for information and support and advice!  
  Guilt and Shame are not something that is projected onto you.  Guilt and Shame is something that you take on yourself.  Emma's words echo true:
"‎~On guilt~
No one can make any one else FEEL guilty. Guilt comes from within. You either feel it, or you don't. And actually, guilt is a very good thing! It causes us to re-evaluate things, lets us know when we are no longer in line with our own principles, our core values. It tells us that something is off, motivates us to......change whatever it is we're doing. In other words, guilt makes us uncomfortable for good reason!
Rather than blaming OTHERS for making us "feel guilty", we really need to look within ourselves for the answers, and stop deflecting our issues away from ourselves, stop projecting our issues onto others. We need to be 100% accountable for our feelings, we need to OWN them. Because they are no one else's *but* our own
." Emma Kwasnica
 Truth is Truth. Facts are Facts.  People can stand on their soapboxes as long as the want and they can shout their opinion about Breastfeeding or Formula feeding, or about the effects of Infant Formula Marketing....... but it's only words if you don't have the facts to back it up.

We have the facts.


...and THAT's the TRUTH.