Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Essential Thing Is Breastfeeding Itself

We are proud to host today's post, which was written by Bettina Forbes, CLC and Danielle Rigg, JD, CLC - the Co-Founders of the Best for Babes Foundation. Bettina and Danielle wrote this response to the guest post published on Monday entitled "Inadvertent Booby Traps." We appreciate the chance to host a discussion about "breastfeeding essentials" and their marketing, and encourage your thoughtful comments on both this and Monday's post.

First, just to clarify, the Fit Pregnancy "Breastfeeding Essentials" section in question is actually an advertorial, which according to is "an advertisement designed to promote the interests or opinions of a corporate sponsor, often presented in such a way as to resemble an editorial". We don't have a lot of experience in the publishing world but from what we've seen, one of the benefits of advertorials is that they allow several smaller companies whose ads would get lost in a big magazine to be grouped together under a common theme. We've seen advertorials in fashion magazines, in-flight magazines, business publications, you name it. In any case, we think it's very important to draw a distinction between editorial and advertisement.

The Best for Babes message about the "Booby Traps" is next to the advertorial section but is not related to the giveaway or any of the products any more than the nursing cover up in the advertorial is related to the breast pump.  

Fit Pregnancy is a media sponsor of Best for Babes, which means that they help raise awareness of our organization and our message to hundreds of thousands of moms every month, for which we are extremely grateful. We have no control over the placement of any editorial or advertising placement of our logo or message, we are just glad to have it made visible. As a tiny non-profit with an extremely limited budget, we rely on media sponsors to help get the message out.  By the way, Peg Moline, the Editor in Chief of Fit Pregnancy, nursed both of her daughters for 3 years each and is extremely supportive of breastfeeding, which is one of the many reasons we are so happy to have a relationship with them.
Since we're talking about an advertisement, we think it's important to remember that any company can advertise it's products as essential, and we see it in advertising all the time, whether it's "essential" work-out gear,  or "necessities for the nursery," it's a marketing term that is used everywhere (even the formula industry). Moms are pretty discriminating, and rely heavily on word-of-mouth, not just advertisements, to decide what they truly need. What is "essential" for one mom may not be for another.  

That said, we understand the author's fundamental concerns over using the word "essentials" in advertising or editorials, especially because one of us spent twenty years working with and volunteering with an at-risk, low-income population -- a life-changing experience which profoundly influenced our decision to found Best for Babes. We 100% agree that the only 2 things "essential" for breastfeeding are at least one boob and a baby, and we use that phrase frequently!

It is a complex issue, however, because it is also true that there are a number of things that can make breastfeeding more comfortable, appealing and convenient for moms, and many of the products that have come out in the past several years have truly been a tremendous boon -- whether it's a more affordable, efficient breast pump, or a really good nursing pillow. Sure, you can hand express, but tell that to a mom who needs to type while pumping in her office! (On the other hand, some companies market  pumps so aggressively so as to imply that you can't breastfeed without them, which really bugs us -- but that is the subject of other excellent posts, like this one at Dou-la-la and this one at Blactating -- very interesting reading, we promise!).

As for the cover-up issue, it  has been hotly debated, and we agree with Annie at PhD in Parenting, that to cover or not to cover should be a mother's personal decision -- if a cover-up makes her more comfortable, than who are we to tell her what to do? In our opinion, if breastfeeding advocates really want to market breastfeeding without a coverup, than perhaps we should take some tips from history and look at how companies successfully marketed the bikini to a culture that was squeamish about nudity and could only bathe fully dressed!

We need to create more appealing images and messages that show moms that it is possible to be nurturing and glamorous at the same time, and that make breastfeeding desirable and attractive -- messages like the ones in Fit Pregnancy, and in the recent PSA campaign by the We would love for the pregnancy and parenting media companies to help us enlist celebrities to breastfeed (without cover-ups) on the red carpet, and to spread awareness of Best for Babes and the "Booby Traps". . . that alone might just change the culture faster than you can say Angelina Jolie on the cover of W magazine.  

Here's the kind of giveaway
we REALLY don't like!
In our opinion, the bigger issue is that we much prefer a breastfeeding giveaway to a formula giveaway. Whether we like it or not, advertisements are the bread and butter of magazines, and we'd rather that moms flipping through the magazine see breastfeeding gear than formula ads. So far I don't know of a single high-circulation pregnancy or parenting magazine that doesn't run formula ads. While we love Mothering, their circulation is a fraction of the bigger mags like Parents; they simply do not have the reach into the mainstream that we wish they did. (We never saw a formula ad in Cookie magazine, but they went out of business before we got a chance to thank them or acknowledge them publicly.)

If we want breastfeeding companies to become large enough to run ads that can replace the formula ads in magazines, then we need to help them grow. Of course it's a delicate balance, because as the author of the post says, we don't want expecting or new moms to think breastfeeding is more complicated or needs more accoutrements than it actually does.

At the same time, we think that the breastfeeding industry has an important role to play in breaking down cultural and institutional barriers -- they have the marketing skills and dollars to "sell" breastfeeding and have done a great job giving breastfeeding a more appealing image! Many breastfeeding companies also provide lots of useful information and support, and in our opinion, the best ones donate to breastfeeding non-profits to help beat the "boobytraps" -- we were thrilled to see that Ameda is donating to the Human Milk Bank Association, and that Lansinoh donated $20,000 to the Hale Infant Risk Center.

Finally, we think it's important to remember that formula was marketed in the 1950s and 1960s as a luxury item, as "essential" to the independence and convenience of the "modern" mom, with the latest advances in "technology and science". This brilliant marketing tactic is precisely why infant formula was so successfully adopted by the low-income population; it was viewed as the ultimate status symbol to be able to formula feed your baby. It is a tactic that influences low income parents around the world to this day, who see breastfeeding as something only poor people do, and who willingly shell out their scarce dollars to buy (or request, if they are eligible for WIC) the formula with the "gold ribbon" on it, or that is labled "premium" even though it is no different from the store brand, and is far inferior to "on tap" or donated human milk in every way, except for in the extremely rare case of galactosemia. (Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in China, where the sickening of 300,000 babies due to melamine tainting in infant formulawas barely a speed-bump in the rush to buy the more expensive and better marketed imported brands -- the formula business in China is booming).

We believe that the breastfeeding community can learn a lot from the outrageously successful marketing of infant formula. If using the term "breastfeeding essentials" can help market breastfeeding, and can make it more appealing and even coveted, then we are all for it. The term also creates a neat juxtaposition that could possibly foster transference in the mind of the reader . . . he or she may just walk away thinking that the most essential thing is breastfeeding itself, and that is the best outcome of all.


I love this. Love. Thanks for posting it!

Great article! Thanks! Darn those booby traps that are trapping new moms!

I think you are a great organization, but honestly, I don't think justifying the use of the term by modeling formula companies is very wise. Many of the "essentials" you had in the giveaway were essentials for me, but like you said, they are certainly not essential to breastfeeding. "Breastfeeding Accessories" would probably be a more accurate term.

I thought it was a little overboard to make such an issue out of this one giveaway, and I've seen similar wording in other marketing campaigns. However, I'm not particularly impressed with your response, either. The term "essentials" may have convinced someone to breastfeed (though I doubt it), but it may have turned off even more.

I agree completely with Holly's 2nd paragraph. The argument against the use of the word 'essential' in the advertorial was much stronger than your responding argument, though I'm not sure that it was a big deal to use the word in the first place. Still, I would encourage you to be more careful with your choice of words, and ask that your media partners exercise the same care.

I also agree that advertising any product as "essential" to breastfeeding undermines our cause and confuses our message. And yes, modeling our marketing after formula marketing completely boggles my mind. Is this a "Can't-beat-em-Join-em" situation? And the argument that moms are discriminating and will "know better" makes zero sense. If that's the case, then WHY are we mad at formula companies for marketing at all? Shouldn't we assume that all mothers are smart enough to know better than "close to breastmilk?" Shouldn't we congratulate the formula companies for sending endless free samples to a new mom's house? I mean, the moms are smarter than that, right? If we say what they're doing is a booby trap, then labeling anything except a breast and baby as a breastfeeding "essential" is doing the same exact thing.

I think it's a hard balance, between what is essential -- a breastpump is certainly essential for the working mom, where it would be a luxury for the stay-at-home mom -- and what is simply an accessory that makes the whole thing easier.

I agree with Anonymous, that I didn't pick up on the use of the word "essential" as a bad thing -- but I can understand the concern.

Maybe future giveaways or whatnot can simply be given a snappy name? It's a hard line to walk -- how to "sell" breastfeeding to as many moms as possible, without falling too far into the selling.

Great article. I wish we weren't so surrounded by products, but it is what it is and the bottom line is to raise the public's exposure to breastfeeding so that it is looked on as NORMAL! Best for Babes is doing an incredible job. Thanks!

I'm not sure who is BfB's target audience--the language of "boobs" and "Babes" for breasts and women doesn't really work for me, personally. I'm also not sure that marketing products for breastfeeding really does make more women more likely to breastfeed. This "ends justify the means" philosophy might be compelling if the "ends" were in fact an increase in breastfeeding rates. I'm not sure that breastfeeding should be for sale, because I'm not sure that selling it as part of a "glamourous and nurturing" image is actually helpful. If you have some relevant stats/studies, I'd be happy to take a look at them.
At any rate, although some mothers do find breast pumps and alternative feeders to be essential to them, they are by no means essential for everyone. In fact, they can shorten the duration of breastfeeding. Other seemingly innocuous items like nursing bras and pillows are yet more unnecessary expenses in difficult financial times. Many mothers find that nursing bras are more expensive and inconvenient than conventional wireless or sports bras. It's a personal choice. Many mothers opt not to wear bras at all and are happiest this way.
Pillows can be more problematic: I have yet to find one that is actually helpful in positioning a baby at the breast. Pillows are sometimes useful for arm-support, but a standard pillow or even rolled-up towel works just as well if not better than a nursing pillow. They're far from "essential."
If a woman is in the mood to make a fun, baby-related purchase, there are lots of options: comfy, pretty pajamas for after the birth, a nice digital camera for pictures of baby, a big box of chocolates... the possibilities are really endless, so an even greater variety of advertisers is possible. But if she's worried that she'll need a lot of expensive products just to breastfeed, she should not have this fear reinforced by advertising.
Breastfeeding is not the same sort of "personal choice" as whether or not to decorate a nursery or buy high-end workout clothes--breastfeeding is a public health matter.

What I think so many are missing here, is that the "Breastfeeding Essentials" language is 100% separate from Best for Babes. BfB is running a giveaway right now, and the "essentials" language is not mentioned at all.

It's a coincidence that Fit Pregnancy is running a giveaway, concurrent to the BfB giveaway, that uses the "essentials" term. They are not related in any way and are not giving away the same products. BfB's giveaway is meant to showcase companies who are donating to them; it's not describing any of the products as necessary. In fact, the word "essential" is mentioned one time on their giveaway page, with reference to "essential" prenatal vitamins.

I think those who are criticizing BfB for language that they never actually used, may need to take a closer look at the situation. That the giveaways are running at the same time, and that BfB's logo appears near an advertorial in Fit Pregnancy, are coincidences, and nothing more.

With regard to the word itself, I do think that marketing products is essential to the cause. If breastfeeding isn't advertised, if breastfeeding products aren't advertised, that leaves formula as the only thing being presented to moms. And to take tips from the formula companies' marketing success? There's something to be said for a proven method. Of course, buying into formula companies' methods full-on, without a careful examination of what they've done and why they've worked, is cavalier; but that's not what BfB was suggesting here.

As a CLC, I've seen breast pumps, breastfeeding pillows, and a variety of other products make a huge difference in the nursing success of moms. They aren't for everyone, and there's no "one size fits all" list for every mom, but these products certainly have their place. While research studies are population-based and can be generalized to that population, we must remember that it's not a two-way street, and we cannot generalize our own personal/professional experiences.

Amy, is there any actual research on nursing pillows? I agree that empirical evidence would be more compelling than a practitioner's interpretation of observations.

@Adrienne - none that I'm aware of, but I haven't searched for it, either. Could be? My personal experience is that it was (and is, even at 2 years old), very helpful. But, it's different for everyone.

Anecdotal information to start the study: I had a completely crap labor and delivered via cesarean and can pretty safely say I would not have stuck with breastfeeding my cluster-feeding, 2-3 hour at time feeding, child had I not had a "My Brest Friend." I was gifted a boppy (I think those are far less useful) and didn't even know the MBF existed until I was sobbing in an LC's office the day after checking out of the hospital because my kid was crazy jaundiced and I hadn't slept in like 40 hours.

Frankly, I'd probably put that pillow on an "essential" list long before a pump (and I'm a working mom) and certainly before any nursing clothing which is mostly pointless to my thinking.

But dangit, MBF is my best friend. Still.

Phew, sorry. I just really love that pillow I guess.

Should a woman not breastfeed because she doesn't have a pillow? No. But it improved my quality of life dramatically. Insurance should cover it.

Amy - I didn't miss that. However, their article here is defending the use of the term - apparently whether they are affiliated with them or not. That is what I am responding to.


Amy and cd,
I'm not saying that nursing pillows are useless for all moms. However, they can cause problems for some and are far from "essential" for most. If you'd like details as to how they can cause problems, I'm happy to provide those--just don't want to clog things up here.
I still maintain that there is no list of "essential" products for breastfeeding. Better in-person instruction (preferably free or at least affordable to all (and in some cases, that means free) and support are essential. Breastfeeding is a major public health issue--I'd love to see better insurance/Medicaid coverage for services such as IBCLC support, so those of us in the field can feed ourselves and help moms and babies concurrently. But there are groups that provide free support--LLL is one. I'd also like to see more HCPs truly supporting breastfeeding through better management of labor and postpartum and education for staff of hospitals. Also, employers should do a much better job supporting breastfeeding moms. These changes are "essential" if we want breastfeeding rates to improve. Making breastfeeding into a fad will not help.

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