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Critics Target Billboards Promoting Breastfeeding

Ohio breastfeed ad_2

by Amy Spangler
April 23, 2010

No good deed goes unpunished. Who would have guessed a billboard promoting breast milk would become the centerpiece in a controversy over a campaign promoting breastfeeding. Viewed by critics as unappealing and offensive and supporters as reminiscent of the popular “Got Milk?” campaign—two contrasting views leave one big mess for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Claiming some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation (only one out of two babies in the state is breastfed), ODH launched a statewide campaign, Help Me Grow, to increase awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and ultimately to boost breastfeeding rates in the Buckeye state. As part of the campaign strategy, public service announcements were placed in newspapers and at bus stops and a series of billboards were put up across the state. Fashioned after the widely popular National Dairy Council campaign that features individuals wearing a milk mustache and the words, “Got Milk?”, Ohio’s ads feature one of two babies and the words, “Breast Milk Satisfies.” The picture that has prompted the public outcry is the one that features a baby with breast milk dripping from the corner of his mouth and over his chin. Why the drippy chin? Why doesn’t the other baby have breast milk on his chin? According to an ODH spokesperson, the presence of the breast milk was the original intent of the campaign; they simply couldn’t find a second picture. Why the negative reaction? Because for unexplained reasons, some people find breast milk coming out of a baby’s mouth unappealing. Although a review of the comments posted online showed that those in support of the campaign outnumbered those opposed by a margin of 10 to 1.

Controversy can be a good thing, in that it garners attention, the mission of every ad campaign. That being said, whether the choice of the drooling baby was a stroke of genius or a misguided mistake, the reaction to the billboard in and of itself is not surprising when you consider that Ohio ranks 47th among the 50 states in breastfeeding initiation rates. Only three states have fewer babies breastfed at birth—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Ohio’s low breastfeeding rates make a compelling argument for the need for a statewide breastfeeding campaign. But they also highlight the existence of a culture in which one-half of women bottle-feed from birth and less than one in 10 breastfeed exclusively for six months; in which breastfeeding is the exception and bottle-feeding is the norm; in which any effort at breastfeeding promotion would likely invite criticism.

Reminiscent of the controversy surrounding the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, the ODH is rightly concerned that the campaign message, “Breast Milk Satisfies,” will be overshadowed by the controversy. Breast milk is the only food babies need for the first six months of life. “Breast Milk Satisfies” is a message all mothers need to see—especially those living in communities where women are least likely to breastfeed.

Sadly, in an effort to satisfy the critics, changes will likely be made. Indeed, rumor has it that the baby with breast milk dripping from his mouth is already targeted for removal. No breasts. No breastfeeding. No breast milk. Is it any wonder breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are low?

  • Shana

    It is a racist ad. It makes it look like African American babies’ mothers don’t wipe their mouths. Shame on you Ohio. How much money did you spend on this bad advertising?

  • Heather

    Did you really just say this ad is racist? Wow. I would never in a hundred years look at that picture and think “wow, that mom doesn’t wipe his mouth”. If you would breastfeed you would know that sometimes that does happen, white or black.

  • Deidre

    In no way do I find these ads racist. I just think they should have used a better ad agency! I would have used wording such as, Breastmilk the healthier choice for your baby. Or, Breastmilk, a healthier future!

  • Scott

    Oh grow up – it’s not at all racist. The child looks happy and healthy, right after enjoying a natural serving of mothers milk. The few drops of milk left on his lips are also natural and appropriate; it’s obvious he’s just finished.

    Now, the race baiters are claiming that the baby has chocolate milk on his mouth. Oh, come on! Every damned thing is racial anymore. Oh, hey, look, the white baby has a green background; money is green; that means black people have no money; it’s racist! Oh, hey, look, the black baby is on a white background; that means that white must be there to support black; it’s racist.

    Stop it, stop it, stop it! Get over this race baloney.

  • LMurray

    The ad makes a great statement and I don’t believe it to have any racial connotations, but yet I can see why some may feel its somehow racially motivated. As a Black woman, I agree that “my people” pull the race card far too often. You must understand that this behavior oftentimes stems from a lack of overall education and cultural self-esteem issues. Issues that have roots in things that have yet to be resolved amongst African-Americans (to get into that would be off scope).

    In the same breath however, to say that, “things are not racial anymore”, is just not accurate. I would love to say that things are not racially motivated anymore but, far too often they are and its sad. Its sad that ads such as this raise such controversy for all the wrong reasons. The point was to educate/congratulate moms about the decision to use their God given capabilities and instead, the focus had a completely different premise.

  • James Butler

    Thank you for your well articulated comment. As an African American male employed by a WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Program) State agency, I am well aware of the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the difficulty we face convincing the African American community about the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s unfortunate that there is still a segment of the population that finds something offensive about breastfeeding. I believe it is because there are many that still see the breast as a sexual object. As for the ad, the company that prepared the ads, probably failed to use focus groups to gauge potential reaction to the ads. Why they depicted the infants differently is probably an innocent thing, however, there are always going to be those that see something sinister. Had there not been an African American baby, somebody would have whined about that!

  • jeannie

    I think in today’s society where women are always being told they must not be producing enough, the baby needs formula to feel “full,” etc. this is a perfect campaign! The milk drool is sending a great message that our bodies produce more than enough milk to keep our babies full and satisfied. I love it. And racist? give me a break.

  • Vilma

    I think it is a great campaign although that is not the image of a baby who’s just finished his breastfeeding meal, I think it’s way too exaggerated, it looks like he just finished a baby’s food and not breastfeeding. Terrible use of Photoshop!