The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Some more thoughts on the Weepu bottle feeding stoush

Cross posted

Like Annanonymous, the latest breast vs bottle dust-up has touched a raw nerve for me, no doubt due to my own experiences with breast feeding. But also because I find the number of shoulds and shouldn’ts that are dished out endlessly to parents deeply wearying. All too often the edicts seem to be handed out with little thought as to how parents might achieve them, or what constraints there might be, or what other issues a parent may be facing.

I’ve found some of the language used disturbing. This sentence from Dita di Boni’s column in the Herald is a case in point.

[La Leche League / midwives / etc] can suggest, coerce and press the issue, but it is a mother’s choice in the end whether or not to take the advice proffered.

Well, that’s… revealing. “Coerce.” That has been exactly the problem for many mothers who have tried breastfeeding, but experienced tremendous difficulties, for whatever reason. There is an enormous amount of pressure on women to breastfeed their babies. And it is facile to say that women can just choose whether or not to take the advice. When that pressure to breastfeed is applied by an expert, it is very hard to resist it. All the more so in those early weeks and months with a new baby, especially a first baby. So many new parents know so very little about how to care for babies, so they are very dependent on midwives and health nurses and and La Leche League experts. To suggest that a new mother who is struggling with pain, and cracked nipples, and ever-feeding infants, has the emotional resources to withstand the pressure applied by those she is depending on is bizarre.

di Boni goes on to say that, “It is up to women to have confidence in their choices.”

And there it is again. Holding individual women responsible for the failings of a society that promotes breastfeeding, but doesn’t provide the resources to enable women to access help with it, and then berating them for lacking confidence if they try to withstand the pressure put on them by those who are experts. Experts in breastfeeding, that is, but not necessarily at all knowledgeable about the particular contexts within which individual women are living and rearing children.

On the other hand, I am baffled by the idea that being pro-breastfeeding is equivalent to being anti-fathers and fathers being involved in their children’s lives, and that bottle feeding is great because then men can be involved in caring for their children. That’s the view espoused by fathers’ rights activist Darrell Carlin.

But there are myriad ways for parents of any gender to care for their children: talking, playing, reading books, cuddling, settling to sleep, dressing, changing nappies, taking to doctors’ appointments, toting them around the house in a sling while you get the housework done, going for walks, singing. And that’s all just in the first few weeks, and just the things that you can do with the baby (c/f say, earning an income to support the baby, or doing housework while the baby is asleep). There is precisely one task that the great majority of fathers can’t do: breastfeeding. And really, if they really, really, really do want to do it, then they could always try a Lact-Aid.

The remainder of Carlin’s column is taken up with wailing about how the nasty feminists have taken over the world and men are oppressed. And put upon. And really, women should be fighting for men’s rights because after all, men gave women the vote. Also, the nasty feminists again. Whatever.

And the last thing that has surprised me: La Leche League’s complete inability to use social media. LLL has tried to say that all it did was ask the Health Council to remove a few seconds from an anti-smoking/pro-smokefree public service ad showing Piri Weepu feeding his baby. In doing this, the only thing they were trying to achieve was to ensure that one public service message – smoke-free – wasnt’ contradicting another – pro-breastfeeding.

But actually, that’s not all they did. As it turns out, what they also did was alert their membership to the issue.

The irony is the damage to the league was done by its own hand. When the Health Sponsorship Council asked their opinion on the Weepu advertisement, La Leche supporters responded intemperately by launching a mass email campaign. The language in the emails was, by the admission of one supporter, “passionate”.

“Passionate” was one word that was used to describe the e-mails. I also heard, “virulently intemperate”. I haven’t seen any of the e-mails, but I’m guessing that they were not polite. And that’s what created the story. Not the request made by LLL, but the allegedly vicious language used in the e-mails sent by supporters. I’m guessing that if LLL had simply given some advice on the ad, without initiating the e-mail campaign, then the story would never have hit the headlines in the first place.

3 responses to “Some more thoughts on the Weepu bottle feeding stoush

  1. Anna nonymous February 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

    That Darrell Carlin column is a strange mix of 95% BS and 5% insight, but the ratio isn’t favourable enough to stop me rolling my eyes.

    I strongly agree with you about the social media/LLL points. Were it not for the campaign element, the response of the various pro-breastfeeding agencies would likely have regarded as a pragmatic public health response, rather than something closer to censorship. The campaign gave the impression of steamrolling the needs of women and families outside of breastfeeding, and their response shows they still don’t understand why this is a bad thing. Sigh.

  2. Psycho Milt February 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I’m more inclined to blame MoH for it. If you ask LLL to comment on a planned ad that features a baby being bottle-fed, they’re going to tell you they’d prefer you not to show a baby being bottle-fed, for fairly obvious and entirely understandable reasons. At that point you have a choice of removing the ‘offending’ sequence, or telling LLL you appreciate their concerns etc but breastfeeding isn’t an option for Piri Weepu so regret etc but won’t remove the footage. That second choice may annoy LLL, but going with the first one will buy you a shitload of unfavourable national media coverage and accompanying ill-informed outrage from all and sundry. If I was them I’d have gone for annoying LLL.

  3. Annoymouse@ February 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    My best friends are a stay at home dad & working mother (I know this is hard to believe, a woman who is happy working while her male partner not only earns less thasn her, but stays home and looks after the babies, twins actually), as 1) he has health problems and works part time & 2) his parther has the (very) high paying career (which she loves, even tho she is a woman with girly bits and has babies), so therefore she went back to work soon after the twins birth (do they really need a reason in this day & age?) The working partner (the one, who by the way, also has the brests) works long hours four days a week, and has the other three off, (working several hours a day fom home). Therefore the other partner (sans the brests) has to feed the babies via a bottle, or let them starve, which for some reason is not considered good form. Anyway believe or not he has been lectured by well meaning busybodies (I’ve winnessed this once) that he shouldent feed children by bottle & where is their mother so they can be brest fed. The male partner now has a standard responce, that is that the mother died during childbirth.

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