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?
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