The New York State Department of Health has recently launched a campaign entitled: “Breastfeeding…For my Baby. For Me” , which encourages new mothers to breastfeed. While intentions behind the campaign are respectable, the campaign has been met with sharp criticism due to its emphasis on the relationship between breastfeeding and weight loss.
Despite years of clinicians’ best efforts breastfeeding rates remain dismal. The American College of Nurse-Midwives endorses breastfeeding as the “optimal method of infant feeding” . Even with a strong recommendation by the to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life, an American Academy of Pediatrics report published this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed less than half of women are breastfeeding at all at 6 months.
In this context, the New York State Department of Health has launched a new campaign, which includes TV and Web spots attempting to encourage women to breastfeed and learn more about breastfeeding on their website. Links to two videos are included at the bottom of this post.
According the New York State Department of Health press release, “The campaign, which will run through the end of October, reaches out to new and expectant mothers, primarily in lower-income areas. The campaign addresses the support that breastfeeding mothers need from family, employers, health care providers, and the community and describes the many benefits for mothers and their babies”
Their attempt to think outside the box in a context of such unfortunate national statistics is laudable. While their campaign will likely resonate with a new group of mothers and attract them to breastfeeding, their appeal to women’s insecurities regarding weight is highly problematic. Women already face significant social pressure regarding weight and to loose baby-weight quickly. A new baby is a significantly stressful life event, even without the added stress of societal pressure to loose weight.
There is no problem with highlighting the weight loss advantage, but to focus on that alone, especially as do these ads, does not serve the interests of the community, new mothers or the health of their babies. It is worrisome that there may be a priority imbalance at play, with a woman’s post pregnancy weight loss taking precedence over any other possible benefits (maternal/infant bonding, proper infant nutrition, decreased rates of breast and ovarian cancer among moms who breastfeed, etc.). The emphasis should remain on the health of the family.
Perhaps these ads will be good for new mothers in a different way. Discussions associated with the controversial ads bring some much-needed attention to the importance of breastfeeding. In turn, it encourages mothers to learn more about breastfeeding and its benefits for infants and mothers.
Jen Busse, RN, MPH, is an intern at the CHMP, and currently pursuing an MS in nursing as a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner at Columbia University.