While there was a lot of consternation over the sometimes negative media coverage of breastfeeding in 2012, it will be looked back on as the tipping point in breastfeeding advocacy.
In 2012, for the first time, an advocacy group outside of the breastfeeding world took up the cause of formula marketing to new mothers in hospitals. For the first time, a US mayor and a state legislature created laws to encourage baby-friendly hospitals. It’s been a banner year for breastfeeding. As the first ever Breastfeeding Awareness Month draws to a close, let’s remember our victories.
Social media has helped to bring the politics of breastfeeding into the mainstream. In early February thousands demonstrated at Facebook headquarters around the world to protest Facebook’s policy of censoring breastfeeding photos. Mothers demonstrated for breastfeeding rights in MIchigan, inWashington DC and all over the country this year.
In early March, Public Citizen, the premier consumer advocacy group founded in 1971, wrote to 2600 US hospitals urging them to discontinue the distribution of commercial infant formula discharge bags.
In April, the organization launched a petition demanding that Abbott, Mead Johnson and Nestle’ stop distributing samples of infant formula in health care facilities; 15,565 have signed so far.
Banning the distribution of formula samples in hospitals is a cause Marsha Walker and the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition have been working on for decades and this year Massachusetts joined Rhode Island as one of two states that are bag free. This issue is important because research shows that formula marketing undermines breastfeeding success.
While some bloggers objected to the petition under the guise of freedom of choice, Public Citizen’s sponsorship of the campaign strengthened breastfeeding’s position as a public health issue. The Public Citizen petition garnered a lot of publicity, not only because of its 225,000 member base but also because of the organization’s broad media reach.
Because of this broad reach, bloggers defending the campaign were able to educate a large segment of the population about issues largely unknown outside of the breastfeeding advocacy community: the fact that freedom of freeding choice is a formula company tactic, and the economic value of breastmilk, among others.
Also in April, New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced that the NYC Health Department would launch an initiative, “Latch On,’ to encourage all city hospitals to be baby friendly. The announcement was made at the city’s first Baby Friendly Hospital, Harlem Hospital. A Baby Friendly Hospital followsten steps that have been shown to contribute to successful breastfeeding.
In May, Mayor Corey Booker’s agreement to partner with formula giant, Nestle’, to promote breastfeeding in Newark came under criticism. Time reporter, Bonnie Rochman covered the story and once again, a larger audience was introduced to the importance of breastfeeding promotion being carried out by breastfeeding experts.
May became a watershed month for US breastfeeding when, on May 10th, Time magazine released online its May 21st print cover of a mom nursing a toddler. Attachment Parenting gained wide exposure through the Time article as did “extended” breastfeeding, which was widely debated in the media in the weeks leading up and following publication of the Time article. Because of this article, the US got a crash course on normal breastfeeding.
Jamie Lynee Grumet, the cover model for Time deserves recognition as a Breastfeeding Champion for enduring the criticism that was slung at her from all sides, myself included. At the time, I failed to recognize that the Time cover was an outtake, an inflammatory image that was not intended to show Jamie and her son at their best. Jamie had nothing to do with the photo choice, of course. She just posed for the cover under the assumption that her photo would be used to illustrate attachment parenting.
At the end of May, the Mom2Mom support group at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington launched a breastfeeding awareness campaign that included a photograph of two women in uniform breastfeeding. The two women, Air National Guard member, Sgt. Terran Echegoyen McCabe, and Staff Sergeant Christina Luna were caught unawares by the publicity storm that surrounded their photo and the women were ultimately chastised by the Washington National Guard and the Fairchild Air Force Base for promoting a cause in uniform. It was not until the 1980s that women remained in the military during and after their pregnancies.
On June 28th, the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court. Section 4207 of the Act sets forth the requirement that all employers provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Further, employers must provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
On June 28, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed House Bill 4968 calling on every hospital in Illinois that provides birth services to “adopt an infant feeding policy to promote breastfeeding.” The bill asks hospitals to consider guidance from the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.
In July, Public Citizen and the United States Breastfeeding Committee held a joint webinar, “Take Action to Keep Formula Marketing Out of Health Care Facilities,” to encourage the third stage of Public Citizen’s action, that of individual’s contacting local hospitals to ask them to stop formula sampling.
This year, for the first time, a corporate alliance was formed between US businesses and the World Health Organization in support of the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The companies that are part of this alliance, The Best for Babes CARE-WHO Alliance, have pledged to be fully compliant with the WHO Code.
And, finally, Texas also deserves special mention for their corporate alliances, updated this year on the website (see photo above) of their exemplary Mother-Friendly Worksite Program. In 1995, the Texas legislature recognized “a mother’s responsibility to both her job and her child when she returns to work and acknowledges that a woman’s choice to breastfeed benefits the family, the employer and the society.”
With this in mind, the program provides a minimum criteria for and maintains a list of Mother-Friendly worksites. Businesses that have established a written worksite breastfeeding support policy may submit an application. Evidence indicates that the most effective worksite breastfeeding policies facilitate:
Privacy for milk expression.
Flexible scheduling and work options to accommodate milk expression breaks.
Dissemination of breastfeeding information and education to male and female employees.
A positive, supportive environment from management to co-workers for employees who are combining work and breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding came of age in 2012. Public health initiatives are increasing as is public awareness. Let’s not be too distracted by the naysayers. They are just evidence of breastfeeding’s assimilation into mainstream society. Look how far we’ve come.
Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.