Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Breastfeeding Rodeo

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office on Women’s Health have been actively promoting an ad campaign over the past few years to increase awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Educating women about the benefits of breastfeeding—getting that information out there (because many were unaware)—is an extremely important endeavor and the DHHS and OWH should be commended for their efforts…for the most part.

Their print and radio ads are generally informative and amusing and (I feel) effective in that they provide important scientific information about the benefits of breastfeeding without criticizing the actions or choices of mothers.

Their TV spots, however, have generated some controversy. Each depicts pregnant women (fictionally) engaging in a dangerous activity, including log rolling and riding a mechanical bull, then equates the activity with failing to breastfeed your child.

This approach seems counterproductive on at least two fronts: 1) it falsely implies that feeding your baby formula is as dangerous to its health as bull-riding while pregnant and thus feeds misinformation to its audience and 2) it serves to criticize and alienate women who choose not to or cannot breastfeed for a variety of reasons.

Let’s give women the best information we have on breastfeeding and on other women’s health topics to help them make the best decisions for their families. Frightening them with false analogies is both unethical and counterproductive.

Lastly, if the U.S. government is truly interested in breastfeeding for our children and for public health, they need to encourage our workplaces and the general public to support breastfeeding and to provide women with comfortable places to nurse their children. Many moms I know (myself included) have plenty stories to share about breastfeeding or pumping while sitting on the toilet in a workplace or public bathroom, or stories about being heckled for discreetly breastfeeding in public.

Currently, the website information appears to address workplace breastfeeding solely by encouraging women to make it work. They say:

“Let your employer and/or human resources manager know that you plan to continue breastfeeding once you return to work. Before you return to work, or even before you have your baby, start talking with your employer about breastfeeding. Don't be afraid to request a clean and private area where you can pump your milk. If you don't have your own office space, you can ask to use a supervisor's office during certain times. Or you can ask to have a clean, clutter free corner of a storage room.”

Thanks for the tips, but I want to know: do DHHS and OWH have a plan to educate our workplaces or maybe that man on the airplane who was so “disgusted” by my breastfeeding that he asked to change seats?


Rachel said...

I learned somewhere that they plan a second arm of the current campaign that will be targeted at educating employers, but I haven't seen the materials yet. I think it's still in the works.

Emilie Clemmens said...

Rachel, thanks--that's wonderful news! I'm looking forward to seeing it.