Judgy breastfeeding campaign should give moms food for thought

Sep 17, 2015 at 10:51 a.m. ET

Moms are up in arms over a new breastfeeding campaign that appears, at first glance, to be oozing judgment. But take another look, and there's more to the picture: Brazil's "condemning" breastfeeding campaign is actually speaking the truth.

The new breastfeeding campaign, released by SPRS of the Brazilian Pediatric Society of Rio Grande, moves beyond the traditional "breast is best" advice new moms have become so familiar with. This campaign focuses directly on breastfeeding mothers and the food they eat to raise awareness for how a mother's unhealthy diet can affect a growing baby.

Breastfeeding campaign
Image: SPRS

If you are currently a breastfeeding mom or can think back to those emotional, exhausting early breastfeeding days, it's easy to imagine why most moms might react negatively to these pictures. Breastfeeding is hard enough. UNICEF and the WHO recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of two years, but most moms in the U.S. quit before the six-month mark — after running into a whole host of breastfeeding issues, like difficulty latching, low supply, pain and swelling, inconvenience and returning to work.

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Even if the images come off as offensive, one thing about this breastfeeding campaign stands out: It speaks the truth, whether we want to hear it or not. We learned way back in elementary school that you are what you eat. It only makes sense that the same principle holds true for a mother feeding her baby.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women are drilled with the importance of avoiding harmful substances, like cigarettes, alcohol and even caffeine. But the topic of food is often taboo because it's so easy to offend. It's ridiculous to expect a woman to drink and eat perfectly while she's pregnant and breastfeeding, but it's also ridiculous to pretend that, like other harmful substances, sugar and processed foods don't have an effect on a baby. Stanford School of Medicine researchers linked a fatty, sugary diet with some birth defects, while a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition confirmed that eating junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding can increase a child's risk of obesity. Another report published in The FASEB Journal simply stated: "Junk food moms make junk food babies."

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Again, no one's expecting perfection from breastfeeding moms. This new campaign is all about raising awareness. Eating a nutritious breastfeeding diet has a twofold benefit: It nourishes a baby while supporting a new mom's energy and recovery. Nursing moms can meet their high nutritional demand — to offset the 500 calories that breastfeeding burns per day — by increasing vitamin D and calcium intake, found in fresh foods like broccoli and milk, and remembering to drink plenty of fluids. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia breaks down a well-rounded breastfeeding diet that focuses on eating protein two to three times per day along with three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit and whole grains daily.

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Most moms would agree that breastfeeding is hard, and this pointed campaign only appears to make it harder. But as moms, it's our job to research all the facts before we make any parenting decision and come to a choice we are comfortable with — whether it's breast or bottle, circumcision, sleep training or day care. It's understandable that breastfeeding moms might be offended by the boldness of this campaign (especially after staying up all night trying to get a newborn to latch), but this new breastfeeding movement presents another opportunity for moms to examine the research and make a decision for themselves.

The judgy factor of this campaign may have been cranked up one notch too high, but the campaign's message still speaks the truth. What you eat affects your baby while breastfeeding. Making just a few healthy choices can make a big difference.