Tag Archives: breastfeeding

NestleFamily, breastfeeding and social media

I have a great amount of data from the recent NestleFamily twitterstorm. Luckily, I was able to see the storm coming. As a few of the attendees began tweeting about meeting up a few days prior to the start of #NestleFamily, I could see that there was going to be some fallout. My interest had been piqued a few months earlier with the Nestle “What’s for Dinner” junket that received some backlash (which I was a part of, albeit briefly).

Even though I was prepared for it, I doubt anyone saw the enormity and longevity of the community’s outrage. The tail of it is still going. This was a key happening on Twitter, and it had far more impact than the Motrin Moms speedbump. I would argue that Twitter’s community has morphed again as a result. Focus on the types of junkets mommy/daddybloggers who call themselves “PR friendly” accept, and what it says about who they are doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There were real responses from the community. Many negative. This great post by cynematic discusses this responsibility further.

My research

I manually copied thousands of tweets using the #NestleFamily hashtag. I also created an online survey that people were invited to complete during the twitterstorm. I’m very excited to have that data. The 66 completed responses are authentic, grabbed at the time it was all happening, and the qualitative survey responses are about as true to real emotion as you can get – people were telling me what they were doing at the same time as doing it. That’s not easy to get when questioning people about their about online activity. When I write it up it will be a chapter in my thesis, and probably a paper/conference presentation as well. I’m going to write up a short version of the results and post it here on my blog soon.

The most positive outcome has been the amazing work done by Annie, aka @PhDinParenting, who took the opportunity to ask some very pointed questions of Nestle. Nestle has been responding to her questions, so good on them. And Annie has posted their responses in the best, most transparent means possible. She then adds her own analysis and research, with links that are exhaustive, informed and inspiring. It is her work that represents the future of real journalism. It’s why I say that the future of journalism is social.

My question to Nestle

I kept largely out of the limelight on this twitterstorm so as not to taint the data I was collecting. I did, however, want to find out Nestle’s views on the dismal rate of breastfeeding in the USA. Nestle promotes its substitute milk in the USA, and with the USA’s very low rate of exclusive infant breastfeeding at 6 months of age, I wanted to find out what they thought about it all. I submitted the question as follows:

As a premier substitute baby milk manufacturer and marketer in the USA, I’d like to know what your opinion is about the fact that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the USA lies at just 12%, when the WHO says it recommends 100% exclusivity for the first six months.

Your Nestle site states that WHO is the “gold standard” so I’m assuming you would agree this statistic is troubling.

Why do you believe this statistic exists? Do you think it can change? And if so, how?

It took a few weeks (I think Nestle lost my question, and then located it when I enquired again about their response), but their response is here:

Thank you for contacting us. We apologize for the delay in our response and we appreciate your patience.

At Nestlé Nutrition we support the positions of the American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of age is best. The most recent statistics from the 2008 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card (2006 data) show that the national average from exclusive breastfeeding is around 13.6%, which is below the Health (sic) People 2010 goal of 17%.

According to the CDC Infant Feeding Practices Study (IFPS) II (http://www.cdc.gov/ifps/ , there are many reasons why mothers might stop breastfeeding, ranging from difficulty with sucking and latching to worries about producing enough milk. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/122/Supplement_2/S69#T2

We believe that optimal infant health is truly the goal and we advocate for more infant feeding support and education for mothers, regardless of whether they breastfeed, formula feed or both.

We are encouraged by the improvements reported in breastfeeding initiation and duration and will continue our efforts to educate and encourage mothers to give their babies a healthy start. That includes providing education and resources for her, and if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, or chooses to supplement her breastmilk, we provide high quality, iron-fortified infant formula-the only safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.

Robyn Wimberly RD,LD.
Nestle Nutrition Contact Center

So there you go. I have my own thoughts on this response. The final paragraph, to me, is just disgraceful – it’s written very poorly. It seems to be saying that Nestle’s substitute formula is the only “safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.” I know that those words “safe and healthy” are definitely not something I agree with. But I’m a breastfeeding advocate, ex-journalist and PR queen, and am used to spin. I have done the research. I know what I know and have made up my own mind. The US Government has initiated the Healthy People plan, but where breastfeeding rates are concerned it is failing – and it doesn’t reflect the WHO “gold standard” referred to on Nestle’s own site. There are holes all over this response. The last paragraph made me wince. I think Annie does a brilliant job of dissecting these responses and calling out the holes. I’m not going to do that here. I recommend you read all of Annie’s work, and if interested in more, you can read my short research blog piece on Breastfeeding in America, see the Ignite presentation, or email me for the full papers to see how the numbers stack up. And then make up your own mind.

So what does all this mean?

Now, I know that this storm has ended up being thrown in the “too hard” basket by many people on both sides of the fence, as well as those who sit on top of that same fence. Statistics are being used pragmatically. Manipulation of data is rife. There’s aggravation, and it becomes personal for many who feel attacked by even discussing it. For many, it sucked the ‘fun’ out of Twitter.

But the fact is, this milestone proved the resilience of the microblogging community. It’s opened a conversation that will bind the community even more solidly. It’s given us a view of people that we didn’t know before. People to both connect with, disconnect from, and understand better, even if they disagree with us. If Twitter were really nothing more than messages about eating candy and frozen dinners, then this storm wouldn’t exist. People have taken it upon themselves to get better educated about something they might not have known about before. They were provided links and questions. They had the opportunity to follow up, and go deeper into the issues than they have ever been led by mainstream media, and Nestle ended up without the buffer of media to spin their messages to.

Key Learnings

For the community: Mainstream media is no longer an excuse for not knowing about stuff. The depth of information you have is up to you and your attention span. That’s a hard responsibility to own. In Nestle’s case, I congratulate anyone (including some attendees) who tried to find out more information or followed it up, no matter where you ultimately sit on the ‘issues’. I challenge those who simply sought an easy path and blindly continued tweeting Nestle-friendly inane statements on Twitter, without addressing any of the twitterstorm. It won’t, in the longer term, help your credibility in the community. The really influential people in this equation can be easily identified. And that’s awesome.

For companies: You don’t get to own your messages any more. Social media represents a revolution, not an evolution. It’s another tool in your promotional strategy, but you have to be ready for the real conversation. The one where your comments get called on. The one you don’t direct. And you will never have the last word unless the community deems it to be okay.

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Ignite Boulder fun with breastfeeding and media

What a great night we all had at Ignite Boulder! The presenters were all wonderful, well prepared and community vibe was enormous. The ATLAS theatre was packed – you can definitely see why these were some of the hottest tickets in town leading up to the event. This community is incredible. I’m so grateful to have been welcomed into it.

It’s so kind of Glenn Letham to have filmed it all from the audience, and posted presentations on YouTube for everyone to see. (The official ones are going to be available on http://www.igniteboulder.com in the near future.) Here’s mine, courtesy of Glenn. By the way a sincere thanks to everyone who make it happen, and to the massive support and great feedback I’ve gotten. It was spectacular.

Breastfeeding in America

Recently many Twitterers (and their associates) contributed to my survey on American women’s attitudes to breastfeeding and its representation in the media. I promised to share the outcomes of my research and the survey, which this post seeks to do. For those interested, the entire paper (30 pages plus 15 page complete survey result appendix) is available by emailing me or asking on Twitter and I’ll get it to you straight away. If you’d like to see the summary of survey responses, this link takes you to the final Survey Monkey summary.

American Breastfeeding Rates

America has a dismal breastfeeding rate. The World Health Organization and the US’s own CDC recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and then breastfed with additional food until they are two years old and beyond. The American Government then worked with the CDC in 2000 to develop the Healthy People 2010 initiative. It includes breastfeeding goals which fall short of the WHO and CDC’s own recommendations – that rates of breastfeeding be targeted to 75% initiating breastfeeding at birth, with 50% at six months and just 25% at one year.

Each year since 2000, American media has been fed press release diatribe on how successfully this plan is being implemented. And mainstream media have unquestioningly spurted it back at the general public. Headlines like “Breastfeeding rate soars” (USA Today 2002) and Reuters 2007 story headlined “US breastfeeding rates rise to record high” disguise the real issue – that even after 8 years of a government promotion to increase breastfeeding in America, 25% of women never even try. In 2005 only 11% of American women exclusively breastfed for 6 months (as opposed to the WHO recommendation of 100%) and in 2007 a quarter of women who initiate breastfeeding at birth have introduced formula within the first week of their child’s life.

So what’s the problem?

Media loves boorolling-stone-janet-jackson-coverbs – as long as they’re shown in a sexual way. We’re all familiar with advertising and other images of breasts. For example, this 1993 cover image of Janet Jackson on Rolling Stone won critical acclaim. The story focuses on Jackson and her embracing of her sexuality. The focal point is her breasts.

But a full 13 years later, BabyTalk magazine’s cover created outrage. No less than 700 complaints were sent to the editor over a cover promoting breastfeeding. So getting it straight, a magazine committed to mothering and babies, getting flak over a cover which promoted – mothering and babies.

babytalk_cover_2006-08

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my paper I explain how I believe this has occurred. The movement of women into the public sphere has seen them embrace their femininity in a new way. There’s a whole “look, I’m in the boardroom and I have breasts” ferocity which has been associated with feminism. Women don’t like being confronted with images which remind them of the roles their mothers had. Feminism’s abject failure through the 1980s and 1990s was its devaluation and disempowerment of the importance of nursing.

Yes, I argue that the feminist movement has contributed to a sociey where even women more readily accept images of breasts that celebrate them on a sexual rather than a mothering level. This is reflected in media too. TV programs such as Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and Ally McBeal feature women who embrace their sexuality and power as successful. Women who hold traditional mothering roles are less successful, frustrated, angry or just plain stupid.

And then to have the audacity to bring those breasts, feeding infants, into the general public? No wonder women in general lead the call for ‘discretion’ and ‘hooter hiders’.

The survey

I hoped to get about 30 responses. The survey went viral and in three days I received 128 responses. More than a third of respondents added extra information to each of the basic four questions asked. Women have strong views. In my paper I relate this passion to religiosity. The religion of breastfeeding meets all the academic standards of definition. No longer is breastfeeding normal, usual practice. And I find that distressing.

While 95% of respondents did not believe media has any influence over their own ideas about breastfeeding, more than half believe media should show it more often. Clearly, women believe media has an influence over someone (if not themselves). One key response was along the lines of “media doesn’t influence my ideas about breastfeeding because it’s not shown in media.” My assertion is that this absence has just as much influence as if it were shown.

Moving forward

So what does this mean for feminists who embraced the bottle as their key to freedom from the ugliness and backward past? It means that the general public can look at American women and say “hey, are you women so stupid that you need to be told to breastfeed? And after eight years, you still aren’t getting the message?” It means that heck, if you’re an educated woman you need to recognise everything about you that’s powerful, not just breaking through the glass ceiling.

 

If media showed breastfeeding as part of normal life on television and other media. If it made it present and normal – not a focus of a storyline, but just part of the everyday life of families with babies on tv, then could we begin to see this overtly sexual obsession with breasts change? Could we begin to see women being more accepting of their breasts as being a special part of a relationship with their child, not just as part of the relationship with their sexuality? If, in a similar way to Hollywood reducing smoking in movies, we began to insert breastfeeding into them… what would happen? And what about the international impact this could have? Hollywood movies are seen worldwide.

Certainly our only hope can be to improve on dismal American breastfeeding rates – and who knows where it could end.

Breastfed is best fed. The End.

Yes, I breastfed all four of my children.

Yes, I did for at least three years for every one of them.

And no, I make no apologies for it.

If you’re uncomfortable with my headline, then as the Queen of Spain says, #suckit. (Yes, I do finally get that.)

I’ve spouted for a long time that breast fed is best fed. I think it’s a great line and it describes my feelings well. All four of my kids deserved the best, and still do. I have sacrificed a lot for my kids.

After walking the talk for 18 years on natural birthing and breastfeeding, I am very familiar with the reasons why people don’t do one or both of the above.

Some are valid reasons – and I recognise that. But the World Health Organisation’s statistics are not possibly wrong. How can Western Nations suddenly need vast numbers of c-sections and women worldwide continue to *choose* to formula feed over breastfeeding for reasons that are non-medical?

Doesn’t your child deserve the best?