Will Advertisers Begin Targeting Moms Who Breastfeed in Public?
A new Luvs commercial may be the start of a trend
When moms breastfeed in public, they sometimes invite disparaging glances and unsolicited suggestions from any and all passersby. Despite the fact that more than 4 million babies are born each year, breastfeeding in public is a topic neither parents, politicians, nor passersby can agree upon.
In 2005, "The View" co-host Barbara Walters admitted to feeling uncomfortable at the sight of a woman breastfeeding on an airplane, sparking women to stage a "nurse-in" outside ABC's offices. In 2007, Facebook caught flack from self-described 'lactivists' for the company's decision to remove images of breastfeeding and ban the mothers for posting "obscene content." Last year, a controversial Time magazine cover featuring a 4-year-old boy suckling at his mother's breast was alternately described by even a parenting blog as, "Totally, totally hot. Or gross and weird. Or both."
Now Luvs, the diaper company that counts moms, breastfeeding or not, among its core customer base, has entered the fray. Luv's newest commercial is meant to encourage moms to rely on its disposable "Ultra Leakguards" collection for their babies' diapering needs. But the ad also may inadvertently inspire moms (and the general public) to rid themselves of any discomfort they may feel about breastfeeding in public.
The 30-second clip from Luvs shows a new mom struggling to nurse her infant while shielding both the baby and her breast with a blanket while seated in a restaurant. In the next frame, the same mom is an unashamed and unapologetic "expert" toting another newborn at her uncovered breast, her now-toddler by her side, shooting a shocked waiter a look that silently conveys, "You got a problem?" The pamper being promoted doesn't even make a cameo.
“The whole campaign is a humorous take on how different parents can be with the first kid and then the second kid,” Tricia Higgins, Luvs' communications manager told Baby Gooroo, a website that provides information about children's health. But Amy Spangler, the site's president and a world-renowned breastfeeding and child nutrition expert, hopes Luvs' influence exceeds its intentions.
"It takes a topic that many people still have a little bit of discomfort with and wraps it in enough humor to make it approachable and inviting," Spangler said. "I hope that other corporations step up to the plate and use breastfeeding, not so much as a means of promoting just that, but as an everyday behavior. But our biggest advocates for making it seem more normal are the mothers themselves. We need to encourage them, despite their own hesitation, to be more willing to breastfeed wherever they happen to be when their child indicates that they're hungry—whether that be in someone's home or Grand Central Station. Once something becomes common, it becomes the new norm."
Indeed, last year, 47 percent of even pregnant women admitted that seeing women breastfeed in public makes them uncomfortable; this while 56 percent of them planned to breastfeeding, but only in private. At the same time, among all women—44 percent—felt uncomfortable seeing a mom breastfeed in public.
"The fact that we have to talk about it signifies that there's a problem, and these things should be normal," said Edith Kernerman, a board certified lactation consultant and president of the International Breastfeeding Center. "It should be no big deal to see women breastfeeding in public, but so many women are stared at, so many people make comments. It's beyond unfortunate. No one should be made to feel guilty about their feeding choice."
And the effects of feeling guilty may ultimately be damaging to a baby's health. In 2010, a study published in Pediatrics found that the low rates of breastfeeding in the United States could be quite costly—both biologically and financially. Researchers calculated the number of lives (and dollars) that could be saved treating childhood diseases linked to the lack of being breastfed, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood leukemia, childhood asthma, type 1 diabetes, and obesity.
They found that if 90 percent of new mothers exclusively breastfed their newborns for the first six months of life, almost 1,000 baby deaths each year could be prevented and $13 billion—spent on doctors visits, hospitalizations and higher healthcare costs—could be saved annually.
The Luvs ad makes no mention of the health risks breastfeeding can reduce, but William A. Krieger, client service director for Repass & Partners, a marketing and opinion research company that focuses on consumer trends, believes its "brilliance" hinges on its hot-topic nature; it's one even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is weighing in. The mayor's "Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative" requires hospitals to implement a 10-step program that educates mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding over baby formula.
"The ad is about tapping into a movement and getting attention," Krieger said. "I don't think we'll see breastfeeding images trend in other advertising, but it will absolutely make more moms comfortable with breastfeeding in public. Advertising is an important part of cultural shifts and development. Moms who see this will feel better about breastfeeding in public and, again, it should be more widely accepted by families."
But it's Bloomberg's public involvement (or that of any politician or corporation) that raises concern for Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and author who specializes in how the media impacts people psychologically.
"[The commercial is an] unhealthy political statement rather than being about what is best for mother and child," Lieberman said. "It's 'too cute' and a thinly veiled message as to what Luvs thinks is politically correct. The decision to breastfeed in public should be left to each mom. The moms need to ask themselves why they are doing it. Are they making a feminist or political statement; are they trying to shock waiters or others; do they need affirmation from men that they are women, or is it truly best for the baby?"