Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

WTF? WTF??!!

Okay, so there's this new campaign designed to make more women breastfeed. One of the ads shows a pregnant woman riding a mechanical bull and suggests that not breastfeeding after delivery is just as risky. This has caused some controversy, understandably. You can read more about it here and view the commercial here.

As a communication scholar, here's my beef:

Amy Spangler, a nurse who is involved with the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee and who influenced the campaign, actually said, “What the campaign is doing is really sharing information and there are no studies to show that sharing information and helping people make informed choices in any way contributes to them feeling guilty about that choice, whatever it might be.”

No studies? Woman, are you nuts? Have you done a proper psycinfo search to find the THOUSANDS of studies (okay, maybe not THOUSANDS -- no wait, I bet it IS thousands) in my field, communication, that focus on message framing and the cognitive and emotional effects thereof? No, you haven't. Clearly you haven't. Or you have but you don't want to admit it. No, I'm pretty sure you haven't. Dumbass.

Ads of this type use what we call a "fear appeal." Fear appeals are risky. If you frighten the audience too much (i.e., by equating some behavior with something as dangerous as, say, riding a mechanical bull while pregnant), you will turn them off. Mission NOT accomplished.

What pisses me off is the way these campaigners are so hesitant to focus on the positives of breastfeeding -- not for the baby, mind you, but for the mother. Their fear? Activating incest schemas. The reasoning is that if you tell women that breastfeeding will release feel-good hormones, make the uterus contract, and promote bonding, it'll freak people out. Heaven forbid the mother should get any gratification out of it.

But what pisses me off even more -- not as a mother but as a scientist, dammit -- is their horrific distortion of the effect sizes revealed in the research. Is not breastfeeding as significant a "risk" as riding a mechanical bull while pregnant? Hell no! There is no risk associated with formula feeding, unless contaminants get into the water drunk by the cows, which, incidentally, is the same water drunk by the mother. No, let's be straight here -- there are benefits associated with breastfeeding, not risks associated with not breastfeeding. And no, the two are not equivalent. Risks refer to potential losses; benefits refer to potential gains. They're both based on a status quo of reasonably normal health.

And the benefits of breastfeeding are not huge. They're minor -- we're talking less than a percentage point for most diseases. But from a public health perspective, even half a percent in risk likelihood is big. Financially. Which is why it matters. If you can reduce the risk of asthma, say, by half a percent, when you expand that effect size to a nation of 300 million, well, that's significant. But if breastfeeding your kid gives her 1/2% boost in asthma immunity, well, you need to make a decision as a parent about whether that 1/2% boost is worth your sanity.

This is just more woman-hating bullshit. Let's scare 'em, that always works. Meanwhile, we get to stand there in the checkout line staring at magazines that scream BODY AFTER BABY. Every breastfeeding book on the market warns against dieting while breastfeeding because it reduces the milk supply. Yet we hear in one ear that our gods -- sorry, doctors -- insist that we breastfeed while in the other ear we hear that our other gods -- sorry, the media -- insist that we crash diet to model on the Victoria's Secret runway six weeks after giving birth.

Damn, I hate this country almost as much as I love it.

p.s. This is the first evening that I've allowed myself to have 2 glasses of wine after putting the baby to bed. Clearly it was more than I could handle.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a cute kid!! Must have gotten it from your moms side of the family. Do you know what a wonderful woman she is? I don't think so. Too bad- you've missed the chance to give her the thanks and appreciation for all that she did for you. And yes, she is determined to never shop at NM for your child again. A blog subject was not her intention. Just something for posterity. She is
humiliated and didn't deserve the Chinese funeral analogy. But then she isn't as educated as you are. Just a mom who did her very best-you need a spanking
From a caring friend of Susie Harrison's

6:25 AM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Erica said...

Well... I stumbled across your blog and was just standing up to applaud this post about BFing benefits and to give you an amen to the doctors (BF!) and the media (lose weight!) rock and a hard place moms often find themselves in...

...when I read this comment above. Yikes!

Anyway, I have done the breastfeeding/working & pumping thing twice, and I applaud your comments about the fact that the ad in question was total B.S. I hate the fear-tactic thing the media shoves on us all, yet the sad thing is, information is OUT there and people so often just take the easy route: "Well it was on TV or in this magazine, so it's obviously true!"

Anyway. Great post.

8:19 AM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Thanks Erica. The post above was probably written by my mom herself. She doesn't like me much. :-\

8:44 AM, June 19, 2006  
Anonymous jonniker said...

Oh good gracious, K. I'm sorry about that comment above. I mean, honestly. I know the personality of which you are dealing with here.

ANYway, I just went off about this on someone else's site, and I outlined nearly every point you have here. I mean, since when do benefits = risks on the flip side?

My sister didn't breastfeed because it was emotionally difficult for her for a variety of reasons, and we talk about this a lot, and she says the same things you do. My nephews, by the way, are brilliant, funny - no, they are HILARIOUS - healthy and just all-around enviably awesome kids. And she is a kickass mom who adores them. And they survived without the boob, if you can imagine. The horror.

I do not now, nor do I anticipate that I will, feel any pressure to breastfeed out of terror or pressure of harming my baby. I've seen both sides, and really, it's all good.

I hate that we're always made to feel like there is a right way. I hate that my tax dollars are being spent on this kind of horseshit.

8:51 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger jane said...

I agree that the ad is silly and it is not consistant with effective behavior promotion. However I must disagree with a couple of things. The RISK of formula needs to be better proven, but we do know that it is associated with obesity, SIDS and middle ear infections. It probably contributes to poor fat utilization and heart disease. It really more of a benefit of BF thing.The benefits are much bigger than you state. For example,the IQ studies-maybe not big,but do I want my child to go to UM or to MSU? (haha)The reduction of risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer is about 30%. The reduction of risk for juvenile diabetes and some leukemias is about 30%.I attended a CDC conference years ago where a researcher showed that juvenile diabetes would almost be nonexistant if the child was breastfed, and was upset that big ad and corp money has deluded us into thinking formula was just perfect.I think the saddest aspect is that something very natural (yes-not for everyone) all over the world has been degraded to a sexual identity thing in our country and that women are set up for "failure" due to lack of support and adequate education.Just like big,paternalistic medicine has taken over labor,Nestle has taken away a natural function of our breasts. I don't want anyone to think I'm a fanatic here;it's just that i teach about this and have read much research and am appalled at how easily we give up on ourselves.

9:25 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger PFG said...

Didn't nestles just buy jenny craig? Did I hallucinate that?
I didn't have wine but I'm incoherent right now anyhow (sleep deprivation) so I'll have to come back to this. Have you really missed your chance? You mean you didn't print that card I made? Darn. Sounds like it would've been well warranted.

1:12 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Jane -- the problem is that it's unethical to do randomized controlled trials assigning some women to BF and others not to, so we're comparing groups who differ on KEY demographics, among them the ever-important socioeconomic status. Those diseases are especially prevalent among poorer people, and poorer people are much less likely to breastfeed (for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that those mothers have to work). Therefore the effect size of formula feeding itself is much smaller than just the bare difference statistic, which reflects all of the differences between BFing and FFing groups combined, including SES and the fact that wealthier women can afford good medical care, etc. But you know all this.

I'm writing this at 3:30am as I pump my breasts. I'm busting my ass to pump 6x/day because my kid is on a nursing strike and will no longer take it from the tap. I have to supplement with about 4 oz formula/day because I can't make enough with pumping alone to feed her. I resent the hell out of the implication of these campaigns that I'm basically giving my child poison.

3:45 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger PFG said...

"After conducting a series of focus groups, the Ad Council and the Department of Health and Human Services decided the ads would be more effective if they warned women, rather than encouraged them, according to Marsha Walker, a nurse on the leadership team of the Raleigh, N.C.-based United States Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit organization that promotes breastfeeding."

I'm sort of imagining the mom survey went something like: "I love my baby enough to feed it properly" and "I'm not convinced formula will mutate my baby" with a three point scale.

Did you notice this part of nurse whatshername's statement in the story you liked to?
"...The reason that focus was chosen is 36 focus groups were coordinated across the U.S. and this campaign is not just for mothers. This campaign is for all of the individuals in this society who are in a position to support a mother’s choice to breastfeed her child."
By my cynnical reading, it seems at least possible that these focus groups included not just mothers or potential mothers.

To break it down, seems like at least part of the point of this campaign was to inform and influence not just mothers' personal decisions but to influence the social attitudes and climates that mothers will be subjected to.
Hey, that makes these people mother fuckers!

10:44 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger PFG said...

Last one. I promise. National Ad Council blog, this post is on the breastfeeding campaign.

11:32 AM, June 20, 2006  
Anonymous Sue said...

Good grief, K. It sounds like you've got enough negativity coming at you from your own family (e.g. your mom). Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm getting the impression you've still got some underlying guilt about formula feeding. Please don't take your mom's "job" a step further and feel you need to defend your parenting choices. You are taking excellent care of your daughter, whether she gets four ounces of formula a day or 24! And yes, those ads are horrid. New mothers need support, NOT guilt-inducing messages -- particularly ones that aren't even accurate!

Lots of support and hugs to you.

12:53 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Thanks Sue, you're very kind.

Re: Jane's message -- she's a nurse and knows what she's talking about, and I respect her. I wouldn't be working so hard to BF my daughter if I didn't believe it offered significant benefits she needed. (I have an autoimmune disease, asthma, and had gestational diabetes in spite of a very healthy diet and exercise regime; these are all things BFing is supposed to offer some protection against, so in my daughter's particular genetic situation I think it's worth the work.) But you're right -- I do have this feeling of being "dirty" for needing to supplement with formula, and the reason is campaigns like this that liken formula to some kind of poisonous faux food.

The best support I've gotten so far is from other moms, people like you who say, "Cut yourself a break."


1:50 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Erica said...

Just adding my two cents - I busted my butt (ok, my boobs) pumping constantly to get the milk supply up (eating oatmeal, taking alfalfa and fenugreek and I can't remember what else), and I still just couldn't come up with that ONE last bottle of breastmilk I needed each day. I too fretted about giving a bottle of formula when needed, but overall (just to parrot everyone else here), you're doing the best you can, and your baby's getting it almost exclusively from you. "They" say it's a destructive cycle - that the more you stress about low milk supply (or just not quite enough), the less you get. Hard to relax though!! Hang in there :-)

2:46 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger jane said...

Well, I don't want to talk this topic into the ground, but I must add that it is wonderful that any working mom tries to keep up breastfeeding. I had to break down and supplement with 2 or 3 bottles of formula a day while pumping because I couldn't keep my supply up. Nobody should feel like a failure. And no milk is poison! I had that feeling,too,because I am in the rare group of women who have some bullshit gene or something and my milk causes breastmilk jaundice.They literally grabbed my 1st son off the breast and said I could no longer feed him! Luckily there was a notable study on this being done locally,and I found out that I could breastfeed anyway. My son would just glow in the ddark for awhile! Anyway, the LAST thing the gov should have done was put those ads into the hands of Marsha Walker. I have read many of her articles and have attended conferences with her. She is a kook and is very radical. I should have guessed that she would have a hand in this! She's made a name for herself on the lecture curcuit, and is "politically" active on the topic of breastfeeding,but has no academic or professional staus other than being a nurse "once upon a time."

4:52 PM, June 20, 2006  
Anonymous Sue said...

I was mainly referring to those ads when I said "guilt inducing messages." No offense to Jane :-)

That little girl is lucky to have such a caring mother -- one who makes educated, informed choices. I just hope you get enough support and applause for your successes - because you ARE successful. Look at you, still breast feeding after, what is it, five months? That's terrific!

Isn't it funny how the world of motherhood can be as competitive, back-biting and judgmental as the regular working world?

6:29 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger mireille said...

You did preface this post with "as a communications scholar" ... and I can understand your irritation with the bludgeoning techniques the breastfeeding advocates seem to feel are necessary when communicating to women who are already under tremendous societal and internal pressures. Not being a mother, I can't imagine how much pressure. That's where it gets tricky, I bet. When the academic detachment fails and you're a struggling young mother doing the best you can -- and you just want to slap these insensitive "communicators" -- whoever they may be -- hard. What a weird battlefield. Also, so proud of your being impervious to attempted public shaming. You go, girl. xoxo

8:26 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Hey Sue -- I knew you weren't referring to Jane's message; I just felt the need to address it because my initial response to it might have sounded like a crabby retort, and in the event that Jane read it I wanted her (and you and everyone else) to know that I understand where she's coming from. She's cool peeps (like you).

M -- thank you. :-)

8:32 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger liz said...

Part of my current research involves authoritarianism (current usage, not that ol' invalid kind). One interesting study I read showed that those who are high in authoritarianism respond best to fear-based advertising, while those low in authoritarianism respond best to improvement-based advertising. So it's important to know who your target "market" is when doing, say, campaign ads. (Pay attention to which candidates use which kind, which suggests their own traits and their party's!)

Of course the "authorities" are pushing the guilt for not breastfeeding, while doing absolutely NOTHING to increase the chances that more women will actually have an opportunity to breastfeed if they are able (i.e. parental leave and various aspects of corporate infrastructure, etc.) Double-binding dumbasses.

3:33 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger goatman said...

As any farmer who has had to seek out colostrum for a wayward calf knows: its the mothers' milk that provides the best nutrition and disease prevention. Of course we are not cows, or at least I'm not, but nurture is nurture!
Frankly, I think that this "controversy" is continued by male researchers who like to picture the tits involved! Pardon my french.

4:50 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger JLB said...

Hi WinterWheat. :) I found your blog a while back, and I've enjoyed it! I'm not a mom, but I love your writing style and sense of humor. Heck, the blog title alone has me giggling every time I visit!

Anyways, when I read the article in the NYT about this ad campaign, I knew you'd have something to say about it, and I'm glad that you did.

Also, a dear friend of mine is expecting, and I've referred her to your blog for your insight, humor, and personal experiences. I'm sure she's been enjoying it.

Good thoughts to you and your family,

8:42 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger Urban Chick said...

i've been back to your blog several times in a bid to put my thoughts into coherent language in a comment but keep failing because the whole thing just makes me MAD!! (mad for the same reasons it maddens you)

besides, you've said it all


4:31 AM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...


You and I have had discussions about mother issues, I know, and if that post above was written by your mother, or anyone who might know her, my response would be it is truly a shame that this woman does not appreciate her wonderful daughter as she is, and not what she expects her to be.


9:08 PM, July 07, 2006  

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