The devolution of breastfeeding: part three


Welcome to the climax in a trilogy of posts examining the cultural distortion and disintegration of breastfeeding. The stories you are about to read provide a snapshot of the widespread cultural trend to denormalise, and thus warp, our view of lactation. You can find part one here and part two here.

Enticing target
Whitehouse, New Jersey, USA, 11 November 2005.

According to Health Products Research, pediatricians are the second-biggest promotional target (primary-care doctors are first) of top US drug firms, including GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott Laboratories and Pfizer. The study found that antibiotics known as cephalosporins, analeptics to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, and inhaled nasal steroids were the top three drug types being marketed to pediatricians, followed by other allergy medications, asthma therapies and infant formula. According to the research conducted by polling more than 2300 pediatricians, drug-company representatives made 2.9 million sales calls to pediatricians’ offices in the quarter ending August 2005 (compared to 11 million calls for primary-care doctors). Yearly expenditures on promotion, not including samples, total $8.6 billion. Conflict of interest anyone?

Time’s up
St. Petersburg, Florida, 18 November 2005.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unequivocal: A retailer should not offer for sale any infant formula that has passed its “use by” date, and such formula should be pulled off the retail shelf. In a survey of ten stores conducted the same morning by a local TV news team, four were found to have apparently small quantities of infant formula still on their shelves one, two, four and eleven months past their use-by date. Perhaps even more striking are the reported attitudes of two mother-consumers in this regard. “That’s a little disturbing to the public,” Robyn Cullen said. “Breast milk is supposed to be the best. But if you formula feed, you want it to be as close as possible.” Jacqui Nesbitt said that the formula her eight-month old daughter drinks today sets the tone of her future. “What you do now affects them in the long run. Once she gets in school, the way she’ll be able to think, and take in information and everything, the formula, I believe, affects all that.” Sure does. Something else I’m sure of: Clearly, these moms view formula as a snugly fitting close second to Mother Nature’s Own.

Bordering on harassment
San Ysidro, California, USA, 2 December 2005.

Zayra Cano, age 18, whose legal residence is in San Ysidro, has filed a complaint against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service. Cano told the San Diego Union-Tribune that she was in the back seat of their car breastfeeding when she and her parents, fiancé and baby arrived at the border on their return from Tijuana, Mexico. An agent accused her of child smuggling and told her to produce milk. A service spokeswoman told the newspaper the incident is being investigated. Inspectors who suspect a baby’s identity are supposed to ask for a birth certificate – which Cane said she supplied – and can demand a secondary inspection. And if she had been bottle-feeding?

Whatever the market will bare
Suresens, France & Bremen, Germany, December 2005.

The France-based Epica awards, which are in their 19th year, aim “to encourage the highest standard of creativity in European advertising and to help agencies, production houses and photographers to develop their reputations across the continent”. Awards are judged by a jury composed of representatives of 32 magazines from 23 countries, including Turkey where the awards ceremony was held, for the second time, in January 2006.

The 2005 winner in the “dairy products” category caused quite a stir in the international breastfeeding community. The image included a full-faced view of a fair-haired baby, who can’t be more than 6 to 8 months old, with heavily furrowed brow, squinting eyes, screwed-up nose, pursed lips, jerked-back head, and an evident air of thorough “Oh, yuk!” scorn, even disgust. The baby is shown seated (my assumption is that it’s all a photomontage) directly opposite an equally fair – but bare and disembodied – right female breast and erect nipple that are the antithesis of those of a typically lactating woman.

Oh, yes, and just to the right of the baby is a large glass of presumably cow’s milk with the proprietary legend “AMMERLAND DAIRIES” etched across it, followed by “No other” centered just below. All this is courtesy of the Bremen-based advertising firm of Wächter & Wächter Worldwide Partners, which have been providing “integrated communication since 1948”. Ironically, a quick check of the Ammerland Dairies website appears to confirm that, in fact, the company produces nothing intended for consumption by children under the age of 12 months, whether for direct retail or wholesale marketing purposes. Recalling the standard injunction against whole cow’s milk before a child’s first birthday, and also bearing in mind that breast milk remains the liquid refreshment of choice for a one-year-old child, there is another dimension to this travesty in both the Franco-German and broader European sociocultural context. This is what I have concluded.

First, this is a prime example of the first rule of advertising – at all cost, be noticed! Second, the ad’s creators would doubtless argue that their brainchild was merely being cute; the implied rejection of the human in favor of the bovine shouldn’t be taken literally (Hey, lighten up! We’re just using a figure of speech!). And third, having achieved the approval of their peers by winning a prestigious prize, the creators would no doubt be truly puzzled – even totally clueless – were they to be rebuked for so unceremoniously smacking Mother Nature across the chops this way. Unfortunately, many in the viewing public would be equally clueless. (To see another award winning breastfeeding-related advertising mess, see here).

Shall I compare thee to a … football league?!
Ontario, Canada, 11 January 2006. 

Janet (Wardrobe Malfunction) Jackson, where are you when we need you? In a contact sport – Canadian football – already notorious for its commentators’ overblown rhetoric, what are we to make of sportswriter Mike Camerlengo’s choice of analogy when providing his winning-team forecast for 2006? First, his opening paragraph: “The NFC [Northern Football Conference] is like public breastfeeding to me; I don’t want to watch it, but mainly because there is nothing else going on, I become intrigued. It is ugly and somewhat unnatural, but I want to see what happens in the end.” Mike then proceeds to provide his season picks before closing this way: “Those picks are about as solid as the contents of infants (sic) diaper [especially those who are breastfed?] but as of now, that’s all I got for you. Maybe these NFC games will be filled with high-placed play and become an offensive shootout. If that’s the case, that breastfeeding mother just might turn out to be Pamela Anderson instead of the usual Star Jones [a lawyer and former prosecutor, and currently an American television personality, who some describe euphemistically as a “person of size”].” Is the sportswriter’s copy an example of art imitating life imitating art – or the reverse?

Pump brake
McMinnville, Tennessee, USA, 16 January 2006.

Angela Smith claims in a suit that she followed unwritten procedures given by supervisors when she returned from maternity leave by notifying her supervisors when she was leaving her work area to use a breast-milk pump during her two 15-minute breaks per 12-hour shift. She was fired because of her alleged failure to follow hospital guidelines, which she noted that other employees leaving to take smoke breaks outdoors do not follow.

“God made form out of chaos and we made chaos out of form, and it is a rare human being who is not, in some secret place in his heart, scared to death that we shall not be able to turn chaos into form again before it is too late” (Rollo May 2007, Love and Will, W. W. Norton & Co.; Reprint edition).
James Akre prepared this post for The Alpha Parent. It is adapted from his book “The problem with breastfeeding. A personal reflection” (Hale Publishing, 2006). As founder, chairman and CEO of the International Breastfeeding Support Collective, James focuses on the sociocultural dimension of the universal biological norm for feeding infants and young children, and on pathways for returning breastfeeding to the realm of the ho-hum ordinary everywhere. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Breastfeeding Journal and of the Scientific Advisory Committee of La Leche League France, and past member of the board of directors of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).