Battle Over Breastfeeding Ads

The largest government-sponsored advertising campaign to promote breastfeeding has come under fire even before its launch. Critics claim that the print, radio and television ads use unnecessary scare tactics to convince women to breast-feed their children.

Amy Spangler a nurse who heads the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee and helped develop the ads, tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm the camapign, which was supposed to be run by the Department Of Health and Human Services starting in December, was diverse in its focus.

She says, "They draw upon humor, they draw upon all of the factual information that we have available to us concerning the risks that are attached to babies not being breastfed and the acute and chronic diseases that can result when babies are not breastfed."

And yet Dr. Carden Johnston, president of the American Academy Of Pediatrics, is against the campaign's message. He says, "We're for the positive aspects of breast-feeding." One ad shows a pregnant woman riding a mechanical bull and the announcer says, "You'd never take risks while you're pregnant. Why start when the baby is born?"

Dr. Johnston says, "For a mother to sit down and breastfeed her baby and watch that baby grow, that's one of the most exciting things that can happen and positive. It should be a wonderful nurturing experience. We want women to be able to choose to breastfeed and do that for positive reasons and not feel intimidated or scared to be breastfed. We are for the breastfeeding campaign and we want to encourage it and support it and we want it to be accurate and credible and love it to be positive. Pediatricians raise their children and support their families with positive nurturing experiences, not with scare tactics. So I'd rather it be a positive, not negative. But we love the campaign and we love what Amy is doing."

Spangler disagrees that the campaign is negative in its focus. She explains, "What the campaign is doing is really sharing information and there are no studies to show that sharing information and helping people make informed choices in any way contributes to them feeling guilty about that choice, whatever it might be."

The goal of the campaign is not just to get more women to want to breastfeed, but put into place the resources for women to breastfeed, despite working outside the home and other pressures. Spangler says it should be easier for women to breastfeed outside the home, in the workplace, in shopping centers. She says there should be quiet rooms where women can go to breastfeed their babies - because the average restroom does not fit the bill.

Spangler notes, "I think it's important for everyone to understand that the strategy of this campaign, which is risk-focused in nature. In other words, it says babies who are not breastfed are at greater risk of developing any one of a variety of conditions, and the reason that focus was chosen is 36 focus groups were coordinated across the U.S. and this campaign is not just for mothers. This campaign is for all of the individuals in this society who are in a position to support a mother's choice to breastfeed her child."

She points out that mothers in Norway have a year of paid maternity leave. Over 90 percent begin breastfeeding and 70 percent of those women are still breastfeeding at 10 months.

Dr. Johnson, however, worries that the campaign may actually turn some people off. He says women who for whatever reason should choose not to breastfeed may be looked down upon.

"Society having seen some of these negative ads would give a perception of failure to their parent. It makes an unpleasant situation even more unpleasant," he says.

Dr. Johnson recommends 4 to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and then mothers can shift over to complementary foods as well as breast milk. Continue breastfeeding as long as it's comfortable for mother and child, he says. Usually, that's about a year old.

Spangler says the big difference between Dr. Johnston's view and her position is that he thinks the focus should be on the benefits of breastfeeding and she feels the focus should be on the risks of not breastfeeding.