You’ve probably already seen the viral video I’m talking about. It’s been showing up on most of my parent-y pages and groups, usually with a caption along the lines of “OMG you guys have to watch this. It made me laugh then cry! Just forget it’s an ad. The message is still the same! Isn’t it great how a formula company is presenting all sides of the conversation?”. If you haven’t seen the video, do check it out now. It’s pretty hilarious, and yes, pretty moving at the end. Especially if you’re overtired or hormonal (and really, who here isn’t?).
Okay, are you back? Good. Because, here’s the thing. At risk of revealing myself to be a card-carrying member of the Breast Police: That heartwarming video IS AN AD. A very clever ad, handsomely paid for by a company that has no agenda beyond selling us their product. Despite spouting lines like ‘sisterhood unite’ and ‘we are parents first’, they’re really not interested in what’s best for us or our children, unless they can make a buck out of it. They’re certainly not on some altruistic crusade to end the (largely fictitious, in my opinion) ‘Mommy Wars’. If anything, formula companies like Similac have a vested interest in perpetuating any tension between breast- and bottle-feeding families, since successful breastfeeding depends so strongly upon having familiar contact with other nursing mothers. So I’m calling bullshit on their ‘Sisterhood of Motherhood’. Listen up while I attempt to break it down.
Notice first of all the product placement in the video. I didn’t spy any branding until the end, but i counted
five, no six, actually at least seven bottles, three of which were actively being used to feed babies, and several of which were squirting formula around like nobody’s business (I’m going to go ahead and assume that wasn’t EBM in those bottles). It was FUNNY. I get it! But how much of the alternative ‘product’ did we see? How many breastfeeding babies or actual breasts, spraying milk or not? That’s right: zero. Oh yes, yes, I know. It’s not like they could have shown real live BOOBS or it would have turned it into a totally different video. But it would certainly have been feasible to show a couple of prop dolls being breastfed without huge nursing covers implying who-knows-what is going on underneath. I’m sure this was a very deliberate choice on Similac’s part, keeping the focus on their own product rather than on the alternative. (Did I mention the alternative is free, and pre-installed in most cases? That would make it pretty appealing if it was up for our subconscious consideration, I reckon…)
Now notice the Dads’ dialogue, which reminds us what breasts are REALLY for… hurr, hurr, hurr.
While we’re at it, let’s also notice that for once the Dads are included in the forum – but only if they don’t have any particular opinions and are happy to be referred to as ‘Sisters’ or ‘Mothers’ at the end. I’m offended by this on behalf of all the great Dads I know, some of whom are the primary caregivers for their young children.
Notice that the only ones on the playground who aren’t being openly hostile and bragging about their parenting choices are the formula-feeding mums. Sure, they throw out a few choice barbs, but they’re defensive in tone and imply that these mums have been criticised or attacked in the past. We’re sympathetic to these poor girls. Conversely, the breastfeeding mums are judgmental harpies who literally brandish their lactating bosoms at bystanders. ‘Some Moms are just too lazy to breastfeed!’ falsely suggests that breastfeeding is inherently difficult and bottle feeding is inherently easy (on the contrary, I take my hat off to formula-feeding parents who manage to measure, pour, mix, heat, sterilise, and whatever other steps there are – every single feed!), as well as suggesting that breastfeeding mothers are insufferable witches. What on earth would a formula company stand to gain from driving a wedge between us like that? Beats me…
Notice the slogan at the end: No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first. TRUE! Lovely sentiment. Hooray for solidarity in parenting and respecting one another’s choices. However. For most parents, the decision to breastfeed (or to try) is based not on beliefs, but on a huge body of research and strong public health recommendations that tell us that breastmilk is the normal food for human babies, and that formula, while adequate, is not an equal substitute. As far as I’m aware, the World Health Organisation has NO position on pram pushing, babywearing, working mothers, yoga, cloth nappying or drug-free water birth (dolphin-assisted or otherwise). They DO have a very clear position on infant feeding, which is that if possible babies should be fed nothing but their mothers’ milk for the first six months of life. To quote Boobie Bitch #1: ‘100% breastfed, straight from the source’. Take out the nasty tone and you’ve got a WHO recommendation. Formula isn’t even the second-best option. It’s fourth-best, after expressed milk from the baby’s own mother, then breastmilk from a suitable donor or wet nurse. So, unless you’ve decided to breastfeed purely because you think it’ll give you an awesome rack (no guarantee, sadly), or because you think it will elevate your status as an Earth Mother, your breastfeeding is not based on a ‘belief’. It’s based on an ‘informed choice’. As is your decision to formula-feed, if you have weighed these recommendations up with your personal circumstances and decided that’s the right choice for your family. Let me say this one time, clearly. I am in no way mad at, sad about, or trying to stand in judgment of parents who feed their babies formula, through choice or through circumstance. I don’t think breastfeeding automatically makes me a better parent than you. I know you have carefully decided what’s best for you, your baby and your family. I am not trying to make you feel bad with this rant, and I should not be able to make you feel bad, if you’ve been able to make an informed decision about how you feed your baby and are acting on this decision with confidence. You are not my target here.
My target here is a very wealthy company which stands to make more money by quietly convincing parents that breastfeeding is hard, that breastfeeding mothers are nasty, and that as long as we all pull together it doesn’t really make any difference what we feed our babies. Similac have carefully positioned themselves in the market as appearing supportive of breastfeeding, and providing parents with the ‘next-best-thing’ to breastmilk if it doesn’t work out. Basically, to me it looks like their target market is the ‘lapsed’ breastfeeder – the mum who plans to breastfeed but runs into problems and ends up either supplementing with formula or weaning completely onto bottles. Similac even have a helpful breastfeeding resource on their website, with convoluted instructions on how to latch (no diagrams, that would be too useful), painstaking nutrition advice for mothers (drink 13 cups of water a day?? Specific serving sizes of vegetables, grains and oily fish, when you have a squalling newborn to care for and are mostly looking for meals that can be reheated and eaten one-handed??), and vague advice on introducing supplemental feeds which I suspect would have a disastrous effect on milk supply and lead to problems maintaining breastfeeding within a short period of time.* Basically, they ‘support breastfeeding’ because they know mothers are aware that it’s the best thing for their babies, but do their best to make it out to be a complex, arduous process that requires lots of thought, planning and commitment. You’ve just got to believe that they’re laying a bunch of booby traps for you rather than giving you good advice – after all, they’d be doing themselves out of a customer if you succeeded. Taking their advice on lactation would be akin to taking the advice of a butcher on the hows and whys of adopting a vegan lifestyle.
And one last thing. These so-called ‘Mommy Wars’? They don’t exist, except in our heads. We parents are all just people. Most of us are great, if you get to know us, even if we do things a little differently from you. Some of us are a bit weird. Some of us are sensitive or self-doubting. Some of us are less tactful or more opinionated than others. And some of us are just plain mean. But we were all like that BEFORE we became parents, so why aren’t they just called the ‘Person Wars’? Some people would judge you on your choice of car, your job, your shoes, your sporting ability. Would you choose to listen to and argue with those opinions if you didn’t like or agree with them? Or would you shake them off and find some nicer people to hang around with? I know my experience of motherhood has been overwhelmingly blessed by the presence of funny, supportive, wise parents around me. While I’ve met some opinionated asshats, I still have an awesome boobin’, bottle-feeding, baby-wearing, pram-pushing, co-sleeping, cot-sleeping, home-birthing, hospital-birthing, gym-going, cake-scoffing, working, stay-at-home-ing, child-rearing network. We’re all different. We all love our children equally. We each run our own race, and cheer one another on from our respective lanes. Thanks anyway, Similac. I have my own sister-brother-hood already. I don’t need to be welcomed to your phoney ‘new’ one.
So, watch the video. Enjoy it. Share it, if you like! (It’s had nearly 6.5 million views so far, so you’d certainly be in good company). But please: don’t forget it’s an ad.
*I am not a lactation consultant, but if you need advice or help with breastfeeding I think you should start with one of the below:
If you are interested in using or donating expressed breastmilk as an alternative to formula, find your local community milk bank here: