Monday, August 23, 2010

Inadvertent Booby Traps

I recently saw that Fit Pregnancy magazine is working with BestforBabes to promote breastfeeding and avoid "Booby Traps" (barriers to successful breastfeeding), and is hosting a giveaway of "breastfeeding essentials".1 Now I love giveaways as much as the next gal (I even run them on my own blog whenever I can find willing sponsors), but I challenge the assertion that any of the things they are giving away are essential to breastfeeding.

In fact, I think by calling them essentials, the companies are inadvertently perpetuating some of the Booby Traps they claim to be opposed to. Some of the products they are featuring as prizes include a Medela breastpump, some bottles, a nursing coverup shawl, and a nursing tank.

It does a disservice to women to tout this expensive gear as "essential" to breastfeeding, because it makes breastfeeding seem complicated, abnormal, and expensive.

Booby Trap #1: Breastfeeding is Complicated

Breastfeeding can certainly be complicated for nursing dyads who enounter difficulties getting started, but for the majority of families it should be fairly simple, at least in terms of gear needed. Sure there are a few things that are nice to have around, and even more things available that might be fun or cute. But you don't need them. God has already given you the essential equipment. If you have a baby with a mouth and a mama with a breast, you're good to go. It shouldn't be a big production that requires tons of extra equipment. The thought of needing lots of stuff to help breastfeed makes it seem more overwhelming, which is the last thing a new mom needs.

Booby Trap #2: Breastfeeding is Shameful

A lot of these products, such as the nursing shawl, are designed to "hide" breastfeeding. I would also include the breastpump and bottles in this category, because I feel that calling them essentials for all moms (not just moms who have to work outside the home) sets up an expectation that all nursing moms pump and bottlefeed in public. Claiming the shawl as an essential item also sends a clear message to new moms: you must cover-up. If this is the message from Fit Pregnancy, how can we possibly expect the rest of society to accept breastfeeding, including publicly, as a normal and beautiful part of raising a child?

Finally, saying these products are breastfeeding essentials places breastfeeding in the realm of elite parenting -poor moms need not apply. The products they're giving away are supposedly worth $600, but if they're all really essential, would require you to spend hundreds more dollars buying more bottles, bottle brushes, nursing covers, and expensive nursing clothes. For example, the nursing dress they're giving away is beautiful, but I think nursing clothes like that are a luxury and a convenience; they are not essential to breastfeeding. And pumps, when actually necessary, are often at least partially covered by insurance. As low-income women have significantly lower breastfeeding rates than wealthier women, I think it's especially important for breastfeeding advocates to avoid painting a picture of breastfeeding as requiring so much expensive equipment and accessories.    

Affordable cotton nursing pads
I personally like the convenience of nursing bras and was pretty leaky at first, so nursing pads saved me from doing excessive amounts of laundry, but I've heard that thin cotton washcloths work just fine too. And you don't have to spend a ton of money to get either. At, for example, you can get two cotton nursing bras for $12 and 3 pairs of reusable organic cotton nursing pads for $10.75. That means for $22.75 you have everything you really "need" in my opinion. Target also has great deals, with nursing bras starting at $7.34 and reusable breast pads starting at $17.99/3 pairs. For moms on a budget, breastfeeding basics can be found that won't break the bank, and might even cost less than a date with Hubby!

If you can afford it, it's true that there are tons of great nursing products you could spend your money on. And winning all that gear from a giveaway would be fun. But let's not pretend they're essentials-we're only hurting moms and babies when we do.

The giveaway page is a sponsored "advertorial," and it is unclear who ultimately chose the wording "Breastfeeding Essentials." Our goal in publishing this piece is not to attack BestforBabes or Fit Pregnancy magazine, but to start a dialogue about the language we use to market products related to breastfeeding. We are excited to host a reply post from the BestforBabes founder this Wednesday. Please leave your thoughts on what the "breastfeeding essentials" are.

We are pleased to host a guest post today from Maman A Droit. "Maman A Droit" is a 24-year-old Midwest mama who is proudly breastfeeding her 12 month old son. When she's not writing posts for, she shares her thoughts on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babies, and life on her own blog.


I agree. Babies need very little, especially breastfeeding ones that have an avaliable mother.

I think this entire giveaway is dangerous. Calling a product "essential" sends the absolute wrong message to new mothers.

I'm conflicted on this piece.

First, I'll agree that essentials are up to that mom/baby. I find a pump pretty damn essential, even though I'm home with my baby (and at work with her) because being with a baby 24/7 can be totally daunting. Call me selfish - I love my kids, but I require some me time, too. I breastfeed, I co-sleep and my life literally revolves around my child. My pump is my key to going to bellydance class once a week - something that helps me retain my sanity, lol - while still feeding my daughter the best possible milk.

And I know moms who consider covers an essential, too. Not because breastfeeding is shameful, but because they have different standards of modesty than I do. They aren't lesser lactivists than I - just different. A covered NIP mom can still help normalize breastfeeding - hell, a really modest mom-to-be who fears NIP might decide she can do it after seeing a covered mom.

My real objection to this article, however, is this: it seems to believe that most mothers are easily led and would make the decision on how to feed their child based on the descriptors in a contest. Really? Perhaps every single mom I know is much smarter than the ones you know...but I seriously doubt it. In fact, I don't know anyone who sees promotional marketing for a contest and seriously believes that the things mentioned are actual essentials. You could make an argument, I suppose, for subconscious manipulation, but with all the other info out there about breastfeeding, I feel that that's a stretch.

*shrugs* That's just my take, though.

I agree completely with this post. I also want to point out that BFB is apparently now in bed with Medela, a non-WHO Code compliant company.

Allright. I'll grant you that perhaps a breastfeeding tank or a nursing cover-up are not essentials, at least, not for everyone.

But I will vociferously object to the idea that a decent-quality breast pump is NOT an essential. I thought we *wanted* to include working mothers among the women who initiate and continue breastfeeding past a year.
I thought we *wanted* women who want a life outside the home to breastfeed and continue doing so for as long as they feel comfortable.

How, exactly, do you expect those women to *not* feel marginalized when you use language like "But you don't need them. God has already given you the essential equipment. If you have a baby with a mouth and a mama with a breast, you're good to go." Because, let me tell you.
You're doing a fantastic job of marginalizing and shaming those women right here in this very post.

If you really want to make breastfeeding the norm, the first thing you have to do is look at yourself and the language you use. This is a prime example of how *not* to sell breastfeeding to the working, busy mother.

A decent quality pump is, I believe, essential for any mother who breastfeeds. Even mothers who don't plan to work should have a freezer stash in case of an emergency.

I firmly believe that probably about 90% of the things in this giveaway should be in that welcome-to-the-world bag they give away at the hospital. Starting with the pump.

Naomi - I don't think the author was trying to marginalize working moms at all - she says:

"I would also include the breastpump and bottles in this category, because I feel that calling them essentials for all moms (not just moms who have to work outside the home) sets up an expectation that all nursing moms pump and bottlefeed in public."

Perhaps she could have spelled out just a little more clearly that breastpumps *are* essential for working moms (because I sure as heck wouldn't want to hand express at every break), but the sentiment was in the spirit of her post.

As far as a pump being essential for every mom - in an ideal world, yes, a freezer stash would be nice to have for every mother, I agree. That would not have been a possibility for me, unfortunately, as I barely responded to the pump :(

One working boob. That's all you need :)

Rebecca M.: Best for Babes has absolutely no relationship with Medela. I hope that in the future you will do a little research before you "point anything out," or at least rephrase it as a question. We are just as disappointed as you that Medela is not Code-compliant, and by the way, the national WHO-Code Monitor, Marsha Walker, sits on our Board!

Thanks for all the comments everyone-keep 'em coming :)

@Star-I guess I was assuming that a lot of first-time moms are like I was and don't really have any clue what gear is actually required and do look at store registry guides and lists in magazines like Fit Pregnancy to help figure it out! Also, I think that stores and marketers make those sorts of lists specifically because their research has shown it to be effective. But I definitely think it'd be awesome if more mamas had better resources to rely on instead of lists and ads in magazines and stores!

@Naomi- I definitely didn't intend to marginalize anyone and I'm sorry if you felt that way. As I look again, I should've used the word "only" instead of "just" because "just" does sometimes have an implication of inferiority, which isn't at all what I was going for. I mainly was responding to the trend I've noticed that as pumping becomes more socially acceptable, non-pumping moms being told they are being indecent if they don't pump and bottle-feed in public(at least I have). If this were a giveaway for "Working Moms' Essentials" then a good pump would definitely need to be on the list.

Best for Babes- Thanks for clarifying on the Medela issue. As we mentioned above, there were lots of people involved in this giveaway (BfB, Fit Pregnancy, and all the sponsor companies who provided prizes) and it can be hard to know sometimes what the "relationship" or lack thereof is between all of them!
PS Loved the wording on your giveaway on Facebook today!

Annie at PhDinParenting covered a similar situation (sponsor being associated with a company they may or may not want to be associated with) on her blog after BlogHer '10.

There is a connection (though I would not call it "getting into bed with") between Best for Babes and Medela in the fact that they are both associated with this give-away. BfB is a sponsor and Medela is providing product(s) to give away. It's a connection (though informal) that may deserve some consideration/discussion on the part of BfB for future activities if they feel that Medela's marketing practices are not a good fit with BfB's vision and goals for their organization.

I am curious to know how the give-away was structured and how much input/veto power each sponsor had when it came to picking the vendors whose products they would give away. I think discussions like this (and those related to formula companies/marketing, etc.) are helpful to everyone as we "do" our advocacy. I know they help me dig into areas of topics I wouldn't necessarily see without someone talking about them.

I like free stuff. I'll start there.

I learned after spending $35 on a pretty nursing cover that it was a pain in the arse and I've since ditched it. EXCEPT, it totally helped me feel like I could leave the house at first, before I became confident enough with breastfeeding to get my daughter latched (well, until SHE learned to latch well - I'll share blame/praise with her!) and get her eating efficiently.

For some of my friends, a cover helps them get out of the house and still remain committed to breastfeeding. Yeah, I wish there wasn't a quiet cultural pressure that makes covers desirable, but again, Out. Of. The. House. Y'all know how good that feels after having a baby, right?

As for pumping . . . I'm a working mom. I need a pump. (Of course, I'm also in Dionna's camp: my boobs don't dig the pump. So now I have a reverse cycling child. Which, close relationship, snuggle snuggle Bf-ing time, yadda yadda, please dear god, will I ever get 4 straight hours of sleep again?)

I think sometimes we get so deep into our justified crusade to break down barriers to breastfeeding that we forget to give mom's credit for recognizing advertising and product placement. If they are reading BfB, my guess is they are probably BF savvy already, right? Maybe a bit?

Carol, Best for Babes is not a sponsor of the giveaway, nor are we associated with the giveaway other than being on the same page. My guest post tomorrow will be addressing this in greater detail, but the bottom line is that Fit Pregnancy is a media sponsor of Best for Babes and helps spread our message--though we have no control over where that message is placed--for which we are very grateful.

I agree that there aren't a whole lot essentials -- in my 18 months of nursing, I've only owned one nursing bra. I only had a breast pump because my mother in law bought it for me, though honestly, it's probably the only thing that kept us nursing as long as we have. I was working two jobs at one point -- it was hard!

I think that the word "essentials" may be misleading, but to be honest, I never bought into essentials for that kind of thing. I didn't even notice it.

I think the bigger issue is, what word could we use to replace it?

Best for Babes - Thank you for clarifying. Since the give-away was positioned immediately below your logo on the advertorial page and contains a key phrase I've seen used by BfB on the click-thru page it was not at all clear to me that you were not co-sponsoring the give-away.

I'll look forward to the piece tomorrow. :)

Oh - almost forgot - Star said "call me selfish" for escaping a bit each week and crediting her pump for allowing her to do so - Selfish? Girl, you are crazy. That sounds like a totally fair outing. I am living for the day when I have enough milk pumped to give myself an afternoon off. I don't think you're selfish at all. And I think some time alone is a definite "essential" on my mom list.

This post left a bad taste in my mouth as a working mom. I've read all the comments and seen that you were not trying to marginalize working moms, but I feel a follow-on post is warranted to set the record straight. I have been nursing my daughter for 18 months, much to the chagrin of my colleagues, 14 of those months I pumped at work and at night to ensure having enough milk for daycare. A pump IS essential for many many women. We need to encourage more moms to feel that they CAN work full time and breastfeed for a full year or longer. Its not as daunting as it may sound and your ranting about how a pump is not necessary makes a working mom feel guilty for being a "second-class" citizen in the world of BFing moms. Shame on you. I normally love reading your posts and I was very disappointed today.

I absolutely agree. Sometimes moms do need extra things like pumps when they are encountering difficulties, but they are not "essentials" for breastfeeding in general. When I know an expecting mom who is planning to breastfeed, I give her a bag of breastfeeding-related items including a box of disposable nursing pads, a tube of lanolin, the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, The Baby Book, and a sheet of paper listing references in their area such as their local LLL groups or IBCLCs and a few helpful websites. I refer to it as a "Breastfeeding Support Kit" or "Breastfeeding Resource Kit." At first I thought it would be cute to call it a "survival kit," but upon thinking about it a few seconds, I realized how bad of a picture that could paint, that breastfeeding is something to "survive" and that you can't ever manage unless you have a bunch of stuff. Calling it a "Breastfeeding Essentials Kit" could very well portray it in a negative light as well. Our wording is important.

I don't think you were trying to say anything bad about working moms - of course they need pumps, but for the many moms who stay at home, they are often encouraged to get a pump as well. Baby registry lists often include them as something that a stay-at-home mom will "need," and that is incorrect. Target's baby feeding aisle portrays breastpumps as essential for all moms as well (saw that on the Blacktating blog). For something as expensive as a pump (and that can't be resold, or isn't supposed to be handed down to others), it should not be portrayed as something that each mom will need to have.

Now, if all moms are led to believe that they need a "freezer stash" for emergencies, that is a personal prefernce... we can't plan for every emergency (to do so would personally make me neurotic with excessive worry), and many mothers just don't respond to the pump. I don't think the freezer stash comment is intended to make those mothers who cannot pump much milk to feel badly that they aren't planning for their child's welfare in case of an emergency, though... but I suppose some could take it that way.

By saying a pump is "essential" for all nursing moms, that encourages mother-baby separation among mothers who otherwise have no need for separation. Our culture certainly encourages mother-baby separation for stay-at-home moms enough as it is, in my opinion! Our culture is very supportive of the individual self - "me time" - to the point that I have been looked at as a freak for never leaving my babies at all until they were about 12 months old, and then only for short times. Instead of respect for my decision, it has been looked at by a few as me having a "superiority complex" for being "the only one who can feed the baby/comfort through breastfeeding." Well, nobody created my husband with lactating breasts, huh? ;) It is just biologically the way it is - no "superiority complex" involved for just wanting to use what you were given to do their job.

I think a word like "goodies" would communicate a lot more of a positive fun "bonus present" to these items without implying that you need them.

If something is ESSENTIAL then you CAN'T breastfeed without it! So far I've breastfed three kids without a pump, and less than half of the mamas in my circle have ever used one, let alone owned one. Also a freezer stash is a luxury available to western women who have the means... but again, NOT an essential. Are we marginalizing all women in the world everywhere except western society by saying a pump is an essential? It is not marginalizing women who work to point out that the basic biological norm of breastfeeding is: Breast. Baby. That's it.

I agree with all of this - even as a mother who worked and pumped all hours of the day and night. A breastpump is ESSENTIAL to SOME working mothers (let's not forget some moms work near their babes and don't need to pump) but a pump itself is NOT "Essential" to Breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding is just that - BREASTfeeding - NOT Pumped Milk Feeding. The WHO certainly makes a distinction.

Yes, I needed my pump, but not all moms do - not even all working moms. Touting something as a breastfeeding essential is not helping our moms avoid the Booby Traps. And to make the argument that a discerning women can make the distinction... well, that's just like saying that the discerning woman KNOWS what the formula companies really certainly don't really mean that their formula is "just like breastmilk" or that they'll be able to avoid the temptations of using that free can at 3 am when she's at her wits end. THAT is a Booby Trap - just like touting anything except a breast as "essential." Anything besides the boob and the baby are "accessories" or "nice-to-haves" and we cannot pretend that we expect all women to hear that when we're actually saying "essentials." IF you mean "accessories" then SAY Accessories. We constantly complain that the formula companies use language like this, and yet here it's being done, and then justified.

I agree that items which are marketed as "essential" are misleading. As an IBCLC the only things that are essential for breastfeeding are breasts. And if sometimes that's means only one breast (in the case of breastfeeding following a mastectomy for example) that works just fine too :)
But "baby gear" as a whole has been marketed as "essential" to the North American population. It's not just the Breastfeeding "gear" unfortunately. Remember this is a Billion dollar industry that has been created.

Camilla aka "multiplereason" on twitter

As a working mom who pumps, I will say that I was not offended in the least by the assertion that a pump is not essential to breastfeeding. I wouldn't even say it's essential to working and breastfeeding - my first baby reverse cycled and I nursed her at lunch time. It may make your life easier, but that's not what "essential" means.

my 2 cents is that YES a pump is essential! you can't predict the future and its irresponsible to have a baby at home without milk while you get in a car accident on the way home from a ten minute trip to the gas station. A freezer stash IS essential, Sure you can hand express and freeze but who has that kind of time? I think by the time your baby is two weeks old you should have at least enough in the freezer to get through 24 hours. Or you should have the dreaded formula for a back up (eww) and pray your baby isn't allergic or lactose intolerant.
I don't think opening this topic up for debate is a bad idea either, the more buzz breastfeeding gets the better IMHO :) We dont live in a society where your neighbor is likely to breast feed your baby if you're unavailable. So maybe their are essentials beyond a mouth and a breast.

Okay, so for the mom who keeps her baby with her always - even for a ten minute trip to the gas station - do you deem it acceptable for her t not have a freezer stash?

People who formula-feed often say that they feel like breastfeeding advocates think they are "bad moms." By saying it is irresponsible to have a freezer stash, it sounds like you are saying that I (and others who don't have stored milk) are bad moms (you have certainly said that we are irresponsible ones). Even if I wanted to build up a stash, what if I couldn't pump much? Would that also be irresponsible, that my body may not respond to the pump? Poor women in third world countries must also be irresponsible too for not pumping (or owning a freezer at all), huh?

The whole "you must have a freezer stash" idea is just a bit on the paranoid side to me... I mean, I could have a heart attack and die tomorrow, so should I stay up all night recording my voice reading books so my children will have that to listen to?

I agree with this post. And it's not just a question of this individual giveaway, but something I see and hear all the time. Baby magazines tend to say things like, "If you're formula feeding, you'll need bottles, a bottle brush, nipples, and formula. If you're breastfeeding, you'll need a good breast pump, breast pads, nursing bras, nursing tops, nipple shields, bottles, nipples, and lanolin." Makes it sound like breastfeeding is much more complicated than it is, while making formula sound "easy," when really it's not that easy. Remember that article against breastfeeding that was so infuriating? The author kept going on about how "it's not really free because there's so many things you have to buy." Only you don't HAVE to buy anything. I would say a breast pump isn't what allows you to breastfeed -- it's what allows you to work.

A similar subtle issue came into play when Nestle (I think it was them) did a breastfeeding support campaign in Africa. They had brochures, supposedly to "support" breastfeeding, telling women that they HAD to eat a certain number of extra calories and nutritious foods, with a big picture of all the meat and vegetables they should be getting. Women who read the brochure thought, "No way I can afford all this food," and the breastfeeding initiation rate actually went down.

This is a very valid point, and I don't think anyone needs to be offended about it. Obviously the author isn't attacking working moms. And I really don't believe we breastfeeding moms, who should be supporting each other, should ever use the words "Shame on you." Instead I say, thanks for point this out, Maman.

If you're referring to the Atlantic article by Hana Rosin, I think the sentiment was breastfeeding is only free if a woman's time has no value.

I agree with that statement 100%.

My time is valuable and limited and I likewise value my time breastfeeding my child. But I don't find it "free." That's a whole new kettle-o-fish aside from the notion of items aside from breast and baby being "essential."

I think we can all agree that our culture has set up things like pumps to be essential because - for many moms - we don't have the option of on-demand feeding during the work day. None of this crap is our fault, but we keep snipping at each other instead of, I don't know, running for office an enacting more lactation friendly public policy?

Great article. I hate that we try to make things harder than they really are just to make a buck. Breastfeeding can be so simple.

As far as a freezer stash being essential in case you die... so you've got the first 24 hours covered. Then what? The baby's caregiver is going to have to find a human milk bank or use formula after that, so what's the point? Another day of a baby's mother's milk is not going to alleviate the trauma of losing his or her mother.

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