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Stick Your "Mummy Wars" Advert Up Your.....

If another person tells me I MUST see the "mummy wars advert", I might just spontaneously combust.

I have got to acknowledge from a marketing perspective, the genius that is this advert. It's so clever that whoever had this brainchild, deserves the mother of all bonuses and a good month or two all inclusive in the Caribbean.

It's so good that midwives and breastfeeding advocates who would never share a formula advert, have eagerly passed it on around.

"Oh, I didn't realise it was for formula" I've repeatedly been told. Nope that's right, some versions have been edited to remove all traces of the brand before sharing.

So how, you might be wondering - can an advert be so incredibly sensational, when you don't even take away from it what product it's for? What's the point if it doesn't even give the name of a formula company?

The reality is if you're one of two leading USA brands, it doesn't really matter if you name your product.
Anything that undermines breastfeeding is a win for them. And this does that so spectacularly on a subliminal level, that they don't need to blaze a logo. In fact, it's far better if you don't make that connection, because many people I've seen share this would never share something clearly advertising formula.

Making it all just seem benign, harmless, fun. It's only asking everyone to be nice to each other, and we all support that right? Isn't that a message that needs sharing? Surely if not you're one of the uptight, judgy mothers depicted in their ad?

They discuss cloth versus disposable, work versus stay at home mum, breastfeeding versus bottle.

Because that's all feeding is right?  Another case of a simple parenting choice - there is no right or wrong, everything is equal.  If you don't agree, you're part of "the mummy wars".

And that's exactly how the advert is being received.  From Facebook:
"To me it just made the point that deep down there's no difference, whatever our choices. We're all just out to do what we believe is best for our own."
But let me tell you how the "mummy wars" came to be.

First you really need to read this post by dou-la-la, to understand where "breast is best" came from, and how we move from there to a belief "perfect parents breastfeed".  This by default makes those who don't breastfeed potentially feel inferior/judged/as though others are "smug".  Please also take a minute (if you really are genuinely interested in stopping the "mummy wars") to read this too.

From there, this post explains how when we have pressure to "perfect parently", which encourages divisive behaviours. It sets people against each others and indeed the resulting behaviour can look a lot like bullying.

Formula companies get this. You don't generate a $50 billion dollar industry by not understanding your market.

Adverts tell mums "you're doing great", "we understand you", ignore those breastfeeding police because it doesn't really matter anyway.

And mums tell us, this makes them feel better.  To hear that - even when it from someone selling, it makes them feel good.

In fact, even more ironic is that mums are actually paying to be told they're doing OK, because who do you think funds the adverts?  It's the parents who pay the extortionate mark up rates when buying a can.

The ultimate irony of course is that you only have to read the recommended above, plus maybe "The politics of breastfeeding", to see how formula manufacturers work to sabotage breastfeeding from every angle.

Consumers believe the formula companies care about anything but billions in profit.

This "faux empathy" is sucked up and in turn it builds a trust between supplier and customer, serving to further increases the divide between parents - who by now all believe the "mummy wars" exist.

And if we read everything believing it's a personal dig at us, or a judgement, it's really easy to take almost anything personally. If I've seen the word "judgy" once online in the last few years, I've seen it a million times.  In fact it pissed me off so much I blogged about it here.

Just today on Facebook, I got accused of fuelling the mummy wars a couple of times myself.
"And it is comments such as your status which help create these 'mummy wars' and the feeling of guilt for mums who, for whatever reason, don't breastfeed their babies."  with clarification "I was referring to your comment about public health."
" I think using the term 'public health issue' is too divisive and puts too much pressure on mums who don't bf for whatever reason. That's why those of us ardent bf supporters get some of the labels we so vehemently deny - like bf Mafia. "
Wendy replied
" No - we need to label it for what it is, regardless of how this labelling makes adults feel. Many women fail to stop smoking in pregnancy despite trying very hard. Should we stop calling prenatal smoking a public health issue to cushion women who can't or won't stop smoking from feelings of guilt? 
What about childhood obesity? I've got an overweight child. Should I ask people not to call childhood obesity a public health issue because I'm struggling to reduce my child's weight and it makes me feel guilty? 
Can I repeat - we are adults. We need to take responsibility for our choices and for our emotions, and not ask other people to change their language in order to shield us from things we do as parents which we may feel uncomfortable about."

I'm still confused that anyone could consider stating breastfeeding impacts on health to be guilt inducing and inappropriate. Formula feeding mothers cannot (apparently) handle facts? we should all pretend actually breastfeeding doesn't matter? Stating it's a public health issue makes someone the "breastfeeding mafia".

Oh that neatly brings us back to the ad doesn't it - because what this is actually saying is to stop the war, we have to stop talking about breastfeeding.

I think various people have summed this up well on Facebook, so here goes:

Michelle, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, posted a fantastic public status, which includes the following excerpt:
"Effectively, (this formula company, edited to remove name) is tricking people into silence. They are saying that every decision is equal, every choice is fine, and to talk about these choices is combative. Who wants to be any one of the judgy, sanctimonious people that they portray in the clip? 

Right, no one. X wants you to see the video and think, "Am I like that? Oh, I don't want to be like that. I'll keep my mouth shut about breastfeeding (etc.) from now on." 
So the message is that we are all to accept everything and not say anything about parenting to anyone, just smile and glow. 
Except that's not to anyone's benefit, except the formula company that is so embattled by breastfeeding advocates that every marketing campaign is an effort to discredit every scientific and social advance back to the biological norm. If the public blames themselves for mommy-wars and accepts every feeding choice as equal and acceptable, then the formula company can take the next step to reassert their product in the marketplace.
Hannah said:
"Their goal is to clear the field for their marketing, by silencing any criticism as judgy. Free speech for marketers only."
Julie said:
"The way I look at it is a formula company putting out a video to bring all parents together is a bit like The Sun newspaper releasing a female empowerment video - you have to ask what their motives are."
Sara said:
"That's why governments should ban all formula advertising. It isn't fair that decisions affecting your child's wellbeing should be based, even partly, on subtle psychological manipulation."
Samantha said:
"Exceptionally well played by X marketers. Dare to disagree and you're just another one of those bullies. Very, very clever."
By pretending feeding is "just another choice", I actually think this does a huge injustice to the parents for whom breastfeeding did matter (whether or not they continued). I'm often told by parents, that they didn't feel they had a choice, and I doubt I would hear many grandmas sobbing years later that they felt forced to use a pram instead of a sling?

I absolutely believe we should support parents who don't want to breastfeed, or who want to stop for whatever reason - nobody should have to justify how or why they feed their baby.  I know better than most what some women endure trying.

We live in a breastfeeding un-friendly society, where mothers are expected to feed a squirmy newborn whilst "being modest", are told to "just give a bottle" by friends and healthcare professionals alike, and breasts are allowed everywhere for sexual gratification, as long as a baby isn't on the end.

If we really believe it doesn't really matter to parents, because we have an alternative sold to us as "nearly as good" what then?  We don't need to put effective support in hospitals to help mums who do want to try, we don't need to treat tongue ties in a timely manner, we don't need to improve the milk bank situation so mums have the option of human milk if they need it, we don't to strive to make anything any different than it is right now - we can just accept that's how it is with a shrug.

And the formula companies keep counting the profit.


  1. Thank you. And Michelle is an excellent Doula by the way. She was a very key person in my breastfeeding journey,and am happy to know her.

    This debate is maddening. I too was called out on my FB page as being "out of my mind" about parenting. For supporting breastfeeding. I think our point is made.

  2. I don't think we should avoid talking about the benefits of breast milk just because it might make others feel guilty for how they feed their baby. While I understand that sometimes artificial milks are necessary, the fact of the matter is that breast milk is the biological norm for human babies, and anything less is simply inferior. I don't say that to offend moms who need to use formula or who choose to use it, but it is simple fact.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. To support breastfeeding in public and breastfeeding on the whole, I'd like to share that I let my baby feed wherever he needs to be fed ( our jumpsac and ergo baby carrier help greatly to feed 'on the go' while holding hands with my 3 and 5 yr old crossing roads etc) and I also smile hugely at other mother's feeding their babies without concern for another's judgement. I like them to know they are supported and need not feel insecure :)
    I will always be an advocate for breastfeeding as first choice and share my love for the gift of breastfeeding. Stress got the better of me with our second child and my milk only lasted four months. This time I'm feeling more supported and am still breastfeeding one year on and im proud of it :)
    We must Keep talking, keep sharing, keep the great wisdom alive. By the laws of nature, we parents will never be silenced :) love to all

  4. This issue gets my goat. I struggled immensely with BF and at 4mo found out my baby had severe upper lip and tongue tie. People assume just because I'm still feeding at 15mths that my journey has been easy.
    Likewise with birthing. I WILL continue to advocate for natural birth despite sadly (but gratefully) having had complications resulting in an emergency c-section.
    I could become bitter and defensive about what I was unable to do, but it's not helpful.
    I empathise with mums who have struggled with BF. I've been there. But I can't keep quiet about the benefits of breastfeeding for fear of offending others.

    1. Thank you for posting. We as a society have such a long road to go to fully recognise and facilitate/support our babies and mothers on their breast feeding journey.

  5. Except, there are no benefits of breastfeeding. That is the same as saying benefits of breathing air. As opposed to what? There are huge detriments to breathing carbon monoxide. As there are huge detriments to feeding artificial baby milk. Did you know, there is an artificial blood product? The risks of using it include heart attack and death. Researchers admit "The complexity of blood is far too great to allow for absolute duplication in a laboratory." Blood is a living organism, with live cells, and many unrecognized substances. But, it is an acceptable risk for a Jehovah Witness who would otherwise be unable to accept a blood donation. The benefit for them is worth the risk. Now, substitute human milk for blood. "The complexity of human milk is far too great to allow for absolute duplication in a laboratory." Human milk is a living organism, with live cells and many unrecognized substances. But, it is an acceptable risk for whom??

    1. Absolutely a pet hate of mine too

    2. Human Breast milk contains substances that are found nowhere else in nature. There is absolutely no way to replicate them. Science cannot determine how they occur in Breast Milk since the DNA is completely foreign!

  6. Could not have been more perfectly written. Thank you.

  7. This is amazing! I've been asked to stop posting things about breastfeeding because they couldn't and it makes them feel bad. What makes your feelings more important than mine? I had to wean my son almost 3 months ago at 2 years, 7 months, 5 days because I was pregnant and spotting and my milk was gone, making it hurt. I miscarried that baby, blighted ovum unrelated to breastfeeding, and now I'm dealing with negative feelings about how and why we weaned. (He's almost 3. Going back isn't really what I want...I just want a tiny squish to snuggle and nurse.) So sometimes I post things that are just as much about me and my family as playing in the snow, and they're really not trying to say you're a horrible person. So, thank you for posting this. I needed the pick me up. :)

  8. Did you just support comparing not stopping smoking during pregnancy to not breastfeeding?

    I respectfully think that takes things a little too far.

    1. The problem lies in the alternatives parents have if they cannot breastfeed their infant for complete nutrition. Wet nursing and milk banking should be an immediate and normal second choice for all infants globally but the normalisation of artificial formula feeding has created a toxic environment for our babies. That's what Tobbcco did and still does in many parts of the world.

    2. Risk of infant mortality for babies whose mothers smoked while pregnant: 1.8 times the risk for babies of nonsmokers

      "Case-control studies suggest that formula feeding is associated with a 1.6-(95% CI, 1.2–2.3)1 to 2.1-fold (95% CI, 1.7–2.7)35 increased odds of SIDS compared with breastfeeding."

      Given those statistics, it is not at all unreasonable to compare the risks of bottle feeding to the risks of smoking while pregnant.

  9. If anyone believes smoking during pregnancy is more harmful than formula feeding, it is because the formula companies have succeeded in a disinformation campaign, and public health has failed in its informational duties.

  10. If anyone believes smoking during pregnancy is more harmful than formula feeding, it is because the formula companies have succeeded in a disinformation campaign, and public health has failed in its informational duties.

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  13. To assert that formula feeding is as dangerous as smoking while pregnant is harmful to the cause of breastfeeding normalization AND to the health and well-being of some babies. I know more than one woman personally who have tried tirelessly every method and medication available to produce the liquid gold their babies so desperately need. Donor milk is often expensive, can be unreliable if purchased through the internet (often is diluted with regular cows milk), and even when it is provided to these mothers, may not be enough for their needs. One mother in particular has a 9 week old who is less than 1lb above birth weight. She has never had enough donor milk, but has been taught that formula is "poison". She has chosen to STARVE HER CHILD rather than give her something that, while definitely not healthy...WOULD KEEP HER CHILD FROM STARVING TO DEATH. Breastfeeding is the biological norm, and donor milk should be easier to access, but when it is not...what do you expect these women to do?


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