by Amy Spangler
August 11, 2010
It’s been described by some as “funny and awesome,” and by others as “weird and kinky.” But at that end of the day, it succeeds where countless other public service announcements (PSAs) have failed by sparking conversation around a subject that deserves everyone’s attention—breastfeeding.
This 28-second PSA featuring celebrity moms, courtesy of the bump, invites viewers to “join the boob-olution” and breastfeed. It comes on the heels of a PSA sponsored by Best for Babes featuring a silhouette of the female body with the words, “Life-saving devices” written across the woman’s breasts.
Boob-olution was one of many PSAs launched during World Breastfeeding Week 2010 celebrations. Another advocacy effort that garnered lots of attention was an Austin, Texas flash mob, featuring a large group of people gathering in a local park and dancing to a rap song about breastfeeding.
As evidenced by last week’s surge in breastfeeding advertisements, breastfeeding advocacy encompasses a wide variety of strategies, but share a common goal—getting more mothers to breastfeed exclusively and for a longer period of time.
Breastfeeding promotion has changed over the years. In 1910, the Chicago Department of Public Health, concerned over rising death rates among babies not breastfed, launched a promotion campaign with the slogan, “Don’t Kill Your Baby.” Few are likely to embrace such a slogan today, but it shows how desperate physicians were to convince mothers to breastfeed at a time when safe alternatives were not available.
It was nearly 100 years before the government decided to again put Federal funds into breastfeeding promotion. The National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign (NBAC) was launched in 2006 with the slogan, “Babies Were Born To Be Breastfed.” The NBAC was designed to make women who were least likely to breastfeed (black and low income women) and the people who support them (partners, dads, grandparents) more aware of the risks associated with not breastfeeding. The campaign generated considerable controversy and received mixed reviews—some thought the messages went too far and others thought the messages didn’t go far enough.
The power of the media in raising public awareness can’t be overstated. But greater awareness does not necessarily ensure higher breastfeeding rates. Given the diversity of the U.S. population, advertisements that appeal to one group may have little or no effect on others. Or worse yet, may alienate a particular group. For example, Ohio Department of Health tapped into a highly regarded slogan, “Got Milk?” for its recent breastfeeding promotion campaign, only to be criticized by some for failing to appreciate the possible racial implications. And, despite her good intentions, a popular supermodel was publicly criticized for being out of touch with reality by suggesting that breastfeeding for the first six months should be mandated by law.
Had it not been for a small group of dedicated women in the 1950s, few U.S. women would be breastfeeding today. These seven women are credited with founding La Leche League International (LLLI) and preserving a breastfeeding culture in the U.S. Through the efforts of organizations like LLLI, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen from a low of nearly 20 percent in 1956 to a high today of nearly 75 percent, but despite this increase, few women breastfeed exclusively, and even fewer breastfeed for one year.
If breastfeeding is to be restored to its rightful place as the normal way to feed a baby—every baby, anywhere, anytime, any place—the harsh criticisms along with the petty and parochial comments need to stop, and every effort to promote breastfeeding needs to be embraced. You may not find me dancing with the flash mob, sporting a “Life-saving devices” T-shirt, or referring to my breasts as “chi chis” or “ta tas,” but you will find me applauding the efforts of each and every advocate.
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