Why shaming women into breastfeeding doesn’t work

Mexico has a very low breastfeeding rate, but a new campaign launched by Mexico City to encourage more moms to nurse their babies just didn’t hit the mark.

Breastfeeding campaigns to boost nursing rates and raise general awareness are an excellent idea. But Mexico City didn’t exactly pass a positive message along with their new ads, which feature attractive, slim models with their breasts covered by a banner — a banner which reads, “Don’t turn your back on them, give them your breast.”

These ads put moms on the defensive

This language faintly echoes that of the now-infamous TIME magazine cover, which featured a mom nursing her preschooler along with the title, “Are you mom enough?” It’s unfair to put that burden on a mom, to bring out questions of her worth as a mother. Doing so immediately puts moms on the defensive, and that’s not a way to sway her to your side.

Stressing the importance of breastfeeding should never be done with such negative language. By saying, “Don’t turn your back on them,” the implication is that moms who don’t or can’t breastfeed their kids are bad moms. And I’m not sure that such a message would encourage a mom on the fence to go ahead and nurse her baby. Can you picture a mom thinking, “Gosh, I should breastfeed my kid because this ad says I’m a bad mom if I don’t.”? No? Me neither.

I was unsure about breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my first. In fact, I bought bottles to feed him from in preparation for his birth. I thought breastfeeding wasn’t for me, and as I’d never seen anyone nurse their babies (aside from some poor woman I accidentally banged with the bathroom door when I was a kid), I didn’t know what I’d be missing out on.

I changed my mind, however, after reading about breastfeeding and its benefits. I didn’t get guilted into it by some ridiculous advertisement, and if I had seen something like this, it wouldn’t have convinced me to put the bottles down in favor of my breasts.

Sex sells… breastfeeding?

Also, the ads look more like they’re selling blue jeans than urging pregnant moms to put their babies to breast. I’m not sure what sexy models have to do with nursing, unless the sexy model is, you know, breastfeeding a baby.

Rachelle, owner of the breastfeeding advocacy page Unlatched, agrees. “I was disappointed when I first saw the Mexican breastfeeding campaign,” she tells me. “I felt they really dropped the ball. Not only does this campaign cause guilt by insinuating that you are a bad mom, turning your back on your baby if you do not breastfeed, but it’s also sexualizing breastfeeding and idealizing a perfect body. Most moms can’t relate to this type of message. And if they hope to increase breastfeeding rates, it’s best to actually show breastfeeding being done to help normalize it again.”

Mexico City is responding to the backlash and will try again, and I really hope they take the criticism constructively and reconsider the message they’re trying to send. Try to raise breastfeeding rates, yes — but do it in a better way.

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