Friday, 13 January 2012

Spin vs Information in Infant Feeding

Did the Telegraph pay Brendan O’Neill for the rights to publish his latest diatribe? If so, it must be nice to be paid by twice for the same job. Once by the Telegraph and again by the infant feeding industry. Let’s share here what he is not telling us.

Breastfeeding support workers don’t use ‘breast is best’. They will say that ‘breast is normal’. It is the milk human babies are designed to drink. As long as Brendan can have normal women nod with the bottle feeding lobby’s logic that formula is what normal babies drink, he can vilify women for wanting human babies to drink his mother’s own milk.

It is a strange world we live in where normal babies are described as ‘more cranky’ because they drink the milk which was made especially for him. Why does he sound almost triumphant saying that formula fed babies are probably ‘content’ because they are overfed? Surely he is confusing contentment with that post Sunday lunch, stuffed to the gunnels feeling.

But wait: the study did not say that breastfed babies were ‘more cranky’. That is the spin of a media saturated with negative breastfeeding terms. What Dr Ken Ong of the Medical Research Council says about the same piece of research is: “ Bottle-fed babies may appear more content, but research suggests that these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly. Our findings are essentially similar to other stages of life; people often find that eating is comforting.

“Rather than being put off breast-feeding, parents should have more realistic expectations of normal infant behaviour and should receive better understanding and support to cope with difficult infant behaviours if needed.

To me he seems to say that adults in our society need education on what is normal infant behaviour and how to respond to them.

Continuing with his diatribe against women, the bottle feeding lobby, sorry, Brendan manages to use ‘militant’ ‘breastapo’ ‘diktat’ in quick succession when referring to breastfeeding supporters. Does he honestly want to let us believe that mothers who by far unpaid and unsung, who steal time away from their young families and careers in order to offer a listening ear, unbiased evidence based information and informed opinions with new mothers, that these women really are the equivalent of people who have terrorized, murdered and enslaved millions of people around the world? Doesn’t this attitude diminish enormity of their crimes and the suffering of their victims? He may still be unaware that Israel’s Knesset is considering outlawing the use of the word ‘Nazi’ form making flippant comparisons.

The NHS does inform mothers - less than relentlessly than some would like us to think, but our mileage may differ on that point – to breastfeed exclusively for six months. And so it should. We expect the NHS to inform us of the other things that will keep us living well, for longer and at minimal expense to the public purse. Using Brendan’s logic, the NHS ought to give up its campaigns to take regular exercise, to eat sensibly and to drink in moderation for fear of guilt tripping the lazy, the obese and binge drinkers. You know, people who may also be the normal mums and dads he proposes to speak for. Is he suggesting that the fear of guilt really is more important than giving as many babies as possible a normal start to eating?

Brendan wants us to buy that breastfeeding supporters, sorry, ‘militant lactivists’ are wielding some massive power over the EU and though he conveniently doesn’t mention them, UK legislators. What he won’t try to sell us is that formula for babies over 6 months old, aka follow-on formulas, were created after the UK laws banning advertising of infant formula came into effect. They were created to get around legislation. Brendan also does not try to sell us the fact that the legislation controlling the marketing of infant formula are designed to protect formula fed babies. He won’t share with us that when a baby relies on formula as the major sustaining force for most of the first year of his life that his food supply needs protecting from companies who put the profit margin before infant health.

Brendan won’t tell us that bottle feeding mothers want the same thing that breastfeeding mothers want: A safe food supply for their babies and the babes of other mothers. Is this because this fact unites mothers?

Ah, Katie Price is a brilliant marketer. She knows how to milk the profits. Breastfeeding advocacy can use her marketing skill and war chest to assist more mothers and the 80% of new mothers who initiate breastfeeding at birth. Normal working class mothers like herself undoubtedly but who unlike her may reach a different decision for feeding her new born. Surely Brendan doesn’t believe that working class women don’t initiate breastfeeding too. Surely breastfeeding unites not divides working class mums and his mythical middle class mums.

However the truth is a little more prosaic than his strange article presents. Many working class mothers who run into breastfeeding difficulties cannot afford to pay for private breastfeeding support so they quite reasonably turn to the NHS for support. Now many will discover that the ‘Breast is best’ mantra along with effective practical support has disappeared into the NHS budget black hole. It is now that a lactavist who is probably working for nothing who may step into the vacuum and provide the support she needs to achieve her goal, if that is, she is fortunate enough to source one in time. Eighty percent of mothers who initiate breastfeeding do not make up the middle class, trendy, looking-for-a-lifestyle-choice mamas he envisions. Labeling mothers serves his interests and the interests of formula companies better than treating women for who they are: diverse but normal mums with ordinary daily joys and stresses who want to breastfeed for real reasons. Like the fact that it is free and that breastfeeding is an ordinary thing most mums feel compelled to do with a new born. Free food and natural instinct are the toughest competition the formula companies face and which won’t go away. Scientific research, the NHS , EU and UK legislation but especially, lactavists are easier to demonise. The drip fed perception of what a lactavist looks and sounds like suits his aims nicely. He won’t have tell us is that these lactavists are ordinary women who work hard, with few resources, daily, to help any mother who requests information on infant feeding issues; be that breastfeeding or formula feeding.

Choice: that red herring. With formula we have an element for choice. And we do have when we also have obtained unbiased information about how formula is made, what are its ingredients and how it is ought to be prepared. Without unbiased information, we have the illusion of choice. Instead of information we have follow-on formula commercials in magazines, on television, online and those 'carelines' for breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers. However, the formula companies choose not to provide information.There is no legislation banning them from providing information but the companies choose not to. They are interested in providing us with advertisement and advertorials for their products and propaganda pieces like Brendan's demonizing breastfeeding supporters.

The formula companies would rather not say that formula is not sterile. They would rather not share the most up to date guidelines for making up a bottle of formula. If they wanted parents to know these things, they would share it with them. Right there on the tin.

This is about making all babies who need to drink formula or whose mothers choose to feed them formula, for whatever reason, get the safest food possible. But they have chosen not share that information with mothers. This isn’t about liberating women from childcare as his article claims. This is about making sure women don't find out facts that may make them stay with breastfeeding a little longer. Women’s liberation is about women having all the information they need to make informed decisions for their babies and their families. Advertising and propaganda dressed up as information and commentary in a broadsheet is patronising, duplicitous and the furthest thing from choice.

And formula companies choose to pay hacks to mix facts with lies and rhetoric to make sure that all those lactavists, breastfeeding women and formula feeding women know their place.

The next time Mr O'Neill writes a diatribe on infant feeding issues, he ought to play fair with the reading public and declare his conflicts of interest in the matter and stop this astroturfing.

About me: I am a mother of 2 who has been working as a volunteer for the last four years to support other women in the infant feeding choices. I also work at the chalk face to support my family.


Tomsmum said...

Very very well said.

schammond said...

This is great: calm, well-reasoned and evidenced. Everything the offending article was not. I also had no idea that formula isn't sterile, I was shocked to learn this.
Following your link at the bottom about accountability and affiliations it made me wonder what we could do if we clubbed together to get one of these big brand management firms to use their dark arts for good and dream up a social marketing campaign to support breastfeeding - wistful I know, but it'd be interesting to see what they came up with!

The Rabbit in the Moon said...

@schammond: most parents are unaware of that simple fact.