Labelled

The Nikon Nipple

Look, give me a minute, will you? I need to finish breathing into this brown paper bag before I can even start today’s blog post because I am so enraged that I have actually shat out my spleen. See, the charidee Save the Children is urging the producers of infant formula to cover one third of its packs with labels warning that the contents of said packs is inferior to breast milk. And no, I’m not making that up.

According to its Superfood for Babies report, Save the Children claims that 830,000 babies’ lives could be saved annually if they were breastfed from birth. Fair enough. The problem is that the charidee thinks that the way to crack this particular nut is to plaster tubs of formula powder with warnings about what could happen if your newborn isn’t offered a tit within moments of exploding from its uterine nook.

Like the tumorous images on fag packets and the liver-saving warnings on vodka bottles, Save the Children thinks that infant formula is deserving of the same treatment. I dunno, perhaps it’d like to treat parents to pictures of withered, sobbing and limping orphans on formula tubs rather than the usual glowing images of mothers and babies.

What really makes me want to take a big shit in the collection envelope that Save the Children shoves through my door, though, is the supreme ignorance that this campaign demonstrates. Seriously, does the charity really think that women in this country aren’t aware of the whole ‘tits are tops’ movement? Women are clubbed over the head with the breastfeeding propaganda even before the sperm has located the egg. They as sure as shit don’t need a tub of fucking formula to club them over the head yet again.

More than that, does Save the Children really think that these labels will change a parent’s mind about feedage while they are nonchalantly wandering the supermarket aisles? In my experience, when women decide stop breastfeeding or not breastfeed at all it is after all manner of 3am agonies. They fret about the health of the baby, the health of themselves and the sanity of the entire family. They aren’t decisions that are made with the same insouciance with which people buy blocks of cheddar.

In fact the Save the Children campaign reminds me of the same shade of flippancy afforded to women who have abortions, as if the decision to terminate is only ever taken for selfish, craven reasons. If Save the Children thinks that most parents lurch from breast to formula in the same way it is as ignorant as it is misguided.

When I stopped breastfeeding three weeks into motherhood it was because my depression had made me suicidal, Kraken Junior was starving and Conjugal Kraken feared for the relationship my wrists were having with his razor blades. At that point Save the Children and its propaganda could have gone and fucked itself because all that mattered was the survival of our family. In fact formula milk didn’t harm our little family. By switching to it, it kept each and every one of us alive.

And what will these labels really do? They’ll stab parents with the knife of guilt every time they make a feed, even when their decisions to use formula milk are based on what is best for them and their child. As if being new parents isn’t enough to make you sob desperately in a corner, now parents will get to sob every time they sterilise a bottle.

So thanks, Save the Children, for helping babies but only by throwing their parents under the bus to do it. Oh, and thanks too for not understanding that the health of the parents is inextricably linked to the health of their babies and for forgetting that parents are just about up to here with the Nazism of the tit. So how about we plaster those tins with warnings about breast bullying instead? Yup, I think a third of the size of the tub should do it.

So what do you think? Is Save the Children on the right track? Or am I on the wrong one? You know how to find the comment box…

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22 Responses to Labelled

  1. Brilliant post! As someone who also struggled with breast feeding (although not suicidal) the last thing I would have wanted was to be guilt tripped every time I boiled the bloody kettle.

    We ALL know that “breast is best”, but formula is not poison and babies (and mothers) will thrive just as well on it.

  2. Ruth says:

    I think if this was about formula feeding in the UK, your outrage would be justified, but it’s not. If you read the report that Save the Children released yesterday, the part about clearer labels on packaging is one very small part of a large package of measures to improve the ability of women in developing countries to make an informed and educated choice about how to feed their children. I find it hard to see how that can be a bad thing…

    The report and campaign have been completely misrepresented in several places that I’ve seen – Netmums and the DM for starters – because obviously getting British women to fight among themselves AGAIN about this will produce more web traffic than a reasonable discussion about healthcare around the world.

  3. Fran says:

    Brilliant blog post.
    I do agree with Ruth’s comment that the campaign is largely aimed at improving health in the developing world – a laudable aim. But I think that Save the Children have really damaged their own argument by calling for the health warnings to be published on packaging globally. Health advice should always be tailored to a country’s specific needs. (For example, malaria advice is much needed in many developing world countries – it doesn’t make it applicable here).
    I also think that Save the Children’s own media campaign (and yes, I’ve read the Superfood report itself) suffers from some basic scientific errors. Formula ITSELF is not bad for babies. Making it with unhygienic water IS dangerous, diluting it dangerous, bad marketing practices are unethical. But formula itself IS NOT bad for babies. At the very, very most, looking at global meta studies of the evidence – there are some marginal benefits to breastfeeding over formula feeding. I want all mothers, in all countries, to make the best informed choice for themselves and their babies. I think its wrong to patronise them by using scare tactics. Though I do admit that ‘Breastfeeding is slightly better and most cost effective, but don’t let your baby starve if you can’t produce milk’ is a bit long for a marketing slogan.

  4. Rootietoot says:

    I was able to breastfeed the first 3, but quit pretty much for the same reason you did, each time- post partum heebie jeebies. The 4th time, I didn’t BF at all, because of medications to prevent the PPHJ that the doctor said I should start taking as soon as I’d caught my breath after delivering #4. The guilt trippage was enormous, due to living in the rarified climate of a major University town, but I was able to convince myself that the guilt of a murder/suicide would probably be worse. I thanked the Good Lord every day for the formula that fed my kids…who…contrary to what La Leche League would tell you…are actually quite healthy and intelligent. While I sort of understand what Save The Children is trying to do, you are exactly right about the way they’re going about it. And while I also understand that perhaps their target audience isn’t the average mother in the UK (per Ruth’s comment), I think the tactics of Breast=Good, Formula=Bad, and requiring the manufacturers to label as such is extreme. Nothing is black-and-white, not even how people feed their children (ok except for bourbon, that’s probably always bad.) I think it would be more practical for the formula manufacturers to label the cans with instructions on how to boil the water before mixing the formula. It’s not the formula that’s bad, it’s the unclean water used to mix it that’s making babies sick.

    • Ruth says:

      Re Fran’s point – the report calls for ‘national’ laws on packaging to support the existing international guidelines, rather than calling for new international laws, so I take that to mean that it’s only recommending such a major change in packaging in countries where its appropriate for that population.

      Re Rootietoot – it’s not just dirty water that’s a problem, it’s the cost of formula. They are intentionally targeting emerging markets, and in some places people spend more on formula than they do on rent, and then because they can’t continue to afford it they dilute it more weakly and their babies end up malnourished.

      I’m not a fanatic pro-breastfeeder by any means. I certainly didn’t breastfeed my son in the first hour because I was too busy being stitched back together and trying not to bleed to death – but I think when people end up sniping at each other about this kind of campaign it’s reminiscent of when we end up arguing about whether the next door neighbour should be getting their £20 a week benefits or not, but we completely ignore billions of pounds of tax avoiding bastards at the top of the pile. I think a bit of bigger picture perspective is helpful.

  5. Meanyjar says:

    830,000 babies would have survived? WHAT! That is scaremongering! My baby was whipped off to the baby unit whilst I enjoyed the high of the cesarean, the decision was entirely taken out of my hands. Women are forever having difficulties with breastfeeding and if it wasn’t for formula milk then there probably would be 830,000 infant deaths a year. In days past there was such a thing as a wet nurse due to these problems, that isn’t possible in this day and age, not in this country anyway. Times have changed.

  6. Meanyjar says:

    Ah, that actually makes sense if they’re talking about third world. My nana boycotted nestle years ago for that reason…SMA were selling it to those countries knowing full well that they could only use dirty water with it and it resulted in many infant deaths.

  7. Helloitsgemma says:

    The campaign is about the developing world – where babies do die. It is not saremongering it is based on facts thoroughly researched not just by Save the Children but by others. This is not about our first world experience where we have access to clean water and we can make informed choices. This is about the developing world – women do not have comparible experiences. Zoe Willuams wrote an excellent article about it in Saturdays Guardian.
    It’s an important campaign – that should be supported not derided.

  8. Amanda says:

    Regardless of where they are recommending putting the labels, in the UK or developing countries, it will cause debate.
    Whilst it would be wonderfully naive to think these labels will save so many lives, what do they plan on doing to ensure the mothers are receiving a nutritious and balanced diet to ensure they can produce the milk to feed their baby / babies. Who will ensure these children will be getting the right foods once they are no longer breast fed? It’s not as simple as sticking a warning on the formula tins, the bigger picture needs to be looked at.

  9. As Ruth and Gemma have so calmly pointed out, this is a campaign about women and babies in developing countries not in the UK. Countries where formula milk is pushed onto women by midwives who are receiving incentives from corporates (TVs, trips to Mecca), where they are told that breast milk has ‘gone off’ because it has been in there too long, where they can’t actually afford the milk so they dilute it to the point where their babies are malnourished, where there isn’t easy access to clean water to make up the feed. This really isn’t a campaign for the Daily Mail and their ilk to stir up UK women, sit back and watch the cat fight; this is about people here supporting people elsewhere and giving them a chance at life. Nothing wrong with that.

  10. Hazel Davis says:

    I agree with everything that Ruth says, despite my hackles rising Kraken-style whenever anyone says the words, “breast is best” or I see disclaimers like that. However, I think what’s more interesting is that mothers in the developed world are so influenced by it. The way in which we get so riled perfectly demonstrates just how infantilised we are by motherhood, or at least are expected to be. If parents were allowed to just get on with doing what felt right, what made them sane, what they believed was best for their children, then the breast issue wouldn’t be so emotive. I think lots of mothers would breastfeed quite happily if they didn’t feel such enormous pressure or they didn’t feel such failures for not doing so. But on the other hand, I was breastfed for two months and I am (I think) a healthy, intelligent grown-up (and my mother smoked for the duration!!).

  11. Wanda says:

    Breast is best – I don’t think you wil find anyone who says otherwise. Even if you end up giving up due to personal problems (which I did with my 2nd baby), your baby absolutely would, even in the UK, have been better off on the tit. Its just a fact. Cows milk is for calves, not human babies. In the old days I guess a baby that could not be fed by its mum would only have survived with its kidneys intact if a wet nurse could be found, cos simple cow/goats milk would harm it. Not only do your babies need the superb combination of exactly right nutrition, when they have tummy bugs you can carry on breast feeding – surely that is good, even for first world babies? Starving a sick growing baby is just wrong; and thats what you have to do with cows milk. The 3rd world issues absolutely are to do with incrrect mixing, bacterial infection but also around the inability to continue feeding formula to a baby when it has a tummy bug (which can kill them) so no, the babies are NOT saved by formula. And amazingly, apart from depression and sore nipple, the inability to feed a baby is incredibly rare. I think you would agree thee are both 1st world reasons for stopping feeding yourself. And no, breastfeeding is not pushed onto people enough. I have heard numerous women reject it out if hand on the basis it is ‘dirty’. Kids will always do better if breast fed so that is a shame.

    • Rootietoot says:

      I was fed canned Pet milk (evaporated cow’s milk) as an infant (in the 1960′s), had/have no allergies or health issues (beyond the usual hay fever and ingrown toenails). Yes,human breast milk is best for human babies, and infant formula is solid close second best, but animal (cow, goat) is better than nothing. I now my experience is anecdotal and not scientific proof, but there it is.

    • Nanaya says:

      Wanda: it’s not “incredibly rare” to be unable to produce enough milk to feed a baby. My baby is 11 days old and I cannot produce more than a few drops of milk a day. I know 3 other women in my circle of friends who could not produce enough milk to feed their babies by breast alone. I wouldn’t call that “incredibly rare”. I take it you’ve heard of conditions like hypoplasia? And that is only one example of a medical restriction.

      Incidentally, if you believe people are made more likely to do something by having it “pushed onto” them, then you don’t really understand human nature.

      • It would be more accurate to say that being unable to produce enough milk is incredibly rare if the proper support is offered~. Most supply issues are caused by lack of support, misinformation and undiagnosed health conditions, such as tongue tie. Primary lactation failure, as opposed to low supply caused by secondary issues, is rare. Which is why other countries, with better support, seem to have far fewer mothers unable to make enough milk.

        Even with medical conditions that do lead to low supply, these can often be flagged and considered before the birth, but rarely are. Why is this? Why are women with thyroid issues, hyophasic breasts or PCOS not told that breastfeeding might be more tricky for them, so they can prepare ahead of time?

        There is far too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support to do so.

  12. Me says:

    You haven’t read the report properly. Or you have read the report, applied it only to yourself and have gone a bit over the top. Look at the bigger picture. Read up on Nestlé and try again.

  13. Cathy says:

    Great post Cath. I think what this post, and the comments underneath, show is that Save The Children’s communication around this campaign is a bit of a miss.

    Nobody is denying their campaign is excellent. Who doesn’t want to save babies in the developing world? And yet we’re all arguing about breast vs bottle vs people who think we’re silly for arguing breast vs bottle when it’s supposedly a campaign about the developing world.

    If Save The Children made this clearer in their communication from the word go, then we would all be united in our desire to, well, Save The Children rather than bickering about breasts.

    Breastfeeding and infant feeding in general is such a hugely emotive issue, about which we clearly all have strong personal feelings, it’s essential that anybody wading into the issue understands this. It doesn’t feel to me like StC does.

    To be honest it got my back up yesterday when this campaign was launched. Having not read about the campaign in the papers, the first I heard of it was on Twitter, when the message ‘breastfeeding in the first hour after birth could save 95 babies’. No message of the developing world, just a bit.ly link. Relying on people to click through to that link and read a full statement or report, when they will have already had an emotional reaction to that kind of statement, is bad communication. NEVER assume, NEVER rely. ALWAYS make yourself crystal clear from the word go.

    The reason it got my back up was because, guess what, I did not breastfeed my baby in the hour after birth. I was having my perineum stitched back together. And my instant reaction when I saw that messaging was defensiveness. So I’d risked her LIFE? How shit does THAT make me feel?

    Much as the instant reaction of many other mothers I know who either formula-fed or did not breastfeed in the ‘power hour’ was defensiveness. And then we were all told, via blogposts and Tweets and whatnot, that our feelings were wrong and we were selfish for making this about US when it’s about children in the developing world. Cue more defensiveness, more bickering, more being told what to think and feel – and in the midst of all this, to quote Moe Flanders, wouldn’t somebody please think of the children?

    Rightly or wrongly Save the Children has provoked a storm of emotion that has, and will continue to, detract from the purposes of the campaign itself. I would have thought it would have more success in uniting the interested public – so, parents – if it had picked a common enemy rather than neatly dividing into two camps of ‘breastfed in first hour’ and ‘did not breastfeed/did not breastfeed in first hour’. Why not make formula companies the focus of the communication instead, for example? It doesn’t take much to persuade people to hate big brands regardless of whether or not they patronise them (we all hate Nestle but I drank Nescafe this morning).

    • The Kraken says:

      I’ve not had chance to comment on all the, well, comments today but having just gone through them all I think Cathy says it perfectly. The lack of decent comms by StC has caused a firestorm and I am pretty sure that the headline I have focused on was pimped by StC in the first place. I’d be stunned if journalists took the time to sift through the report and come up with these headlines themselves. Instead I suspect that StC sent out a press release with the report, the release highlighting the labelling issue that we are arguing over here. Then again, perhaps it’s not bad comms after all because we are all talking about it and StC. It could be a job well done.

      Gotta say, though, while I don’t agree with all the comments on here I want to thank all of you for commenting. It proves that it’s an important issue even if we all want to rip each other’s hair out.

  14. sheona says:

    nothing much to add to the above except to stress that it’s part of a wider campaign that we should all be getting behind: improving survival rates in developing countries is something that we can all support, surely?

    I don’t also think it’s necessarily a problem of Save the Children’s creation. All information we see is mediated and goes through whatever prism the news media want to put it through. The Guardian article was a good one – there was a rather excellent Radio 4 article on the Today programme the other day too which emphasised the developing nations aspect of it.

    But one thing is very clear: support in the UK for breastfeeding mothers (anecdotal, I had my babies in Germany and received excellent support) is just crap.

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