The Man of Mans and I are both pro-choice advocates. For us, the term includes, but is not limited to issues, regarding reproductive rights. In his first guest post, The MoMs explores a recent incident in New Zealand, wherein images of a man bottle feeding his infant daughter were pulled from a PSA at the behest of La Leche.  As a devoted father and a proponent of individual choice, The MoMs had a few thoughts on the matter.

Image via avalonsguide.com

What do you see in this picture? A father bonding with his daughter? A baby getting a meal while maybe Mom gets a break? No. Apparently what you are seeing is an activity so harmful, it has no place in a government sponsored ad.

The man in the picture above is Piri Weepu, a rugby star in New Zealand. He is also one of the stars of a PSA from the New Zealand Health Services Council about having a smoke-free environment in your home. The ad features Weepu playing with his kids, and originally had about 2 seconds of him feeding his baby a bottle. Well, La Leche League, along with some other unnamed groups, launched an e-mail campaign urging the HSC to pull this section out of the ad. The HSC bowed to the pressure and the ad no longer shows the bottle feeding.

Here’s the quote from Alison Stanton, a director of La Leche League, about why they wanted the clip pulled:

“You’ve got the healthy eating message, exercise, breastfeeding, smoke-free environment, wearing safety belts and this is about making sure that we give consistent health messages.”

I’m sorry, Alison. Did you just say that giving your kid a bottle is the same as not wearing a seatbelt, or having a house full of smoke? I will also point out that there’s nothing about wearing seatbelts, eating healthy, or exercising in the aforementioned ad, so exactly where these “consistent health messages” are coming from, I’m not sure.

OK, La Leche, I get that we do not see eye to eye on this issue. I don’t feel there’s anything inherently wrong with dads giving their babies formula (or, I might note, breast milk in a bottle). You do. But when you try to claim that Mr. Weepu’s choices, which happen to be the same ones my family made, are so damaging they will actually make people miss that the point of the ad is about SMOKING, I feel you have crossed a line.

As a new dad, I wanted to share in all the experiences of parenting, and feeding my son was especially appealing. Nadine and I also both felt we would be more functional parents, and stronger partners, if we shared the night feedings, ensuring that neither one of us got too exhausted. By bottle feeding my son, I forged an incredible bond that lasts to this day. I also have a healthy child who is equally attached to his mom, and a strong and loving marriage.

Does any of this sound harmful?

I recognize that not everyone who bottle-fed will have the same story to tell, nor am I saying that breastfeeding is any less beneficial as an option. That’s exactly my point; nothing in parenting is universal, and that’s why lots of viewpoints are worth sharing. I also know that there’s evidence that breast milk is a superior food to formula. But La Leche’s beef isn’t only with the contents of the bottle, it’s with the bottle itself.

As I said, though, I get that La Leche and I do not see things the same way. I find their campaign upsetting, but I recognize that it’s consistent with their set of beliefs.

My real quarrel is with the New Zealand government. According to HSC chief executive Iain Potter, they consulted with a number of groups on the ad, including La Leche and Plunket. Plunket, according to my research, is a NZ organization that offers access to health services for people of all ethnicities and economic statuses. Considering that their website includes a picture of a dad bottle feeding a baby, I’m guessing they were not quite as opposed to the image of Weepu feeding his kid. So I assume that HSC got a mixed set of opinions on the ad, and still decided to pull the bottle feeding clip.

SHENANIGANS!

If the New Zealand government agrees with La Leche, why do they allow bottles to be sold in NZ stores? Why aren’t they passing breastfeeding laws the way they have seatbelt laws? Either the HSC doesn’t have La Leche’s conviction to act consistently in mandating “Breast is best”, or they’re taking the path of least resistance as it seems so many governments do, by making the decision they feel will cause the least controversy. In doing so, they are validating the notion that as a bottle-feeding father, I hurt my child.

I would never smoke in front of my son. I would never let him go without a seatbelt. No one, not La Leche and certainly not the HSC, has the right to tell people that I’ve done something equally reckless in giving him a bottle.

Comments

  1. Danielle Gregoire says:

    Yay Man Of Man’s! This post made me cry. As a breastfeeding mom, I reserve the right NOT to judge the way another person decides to feed their child, as long as they love the child and are doing what they feel is best. I remember when you asked if my husband was going to be bottle feeding our first…and I said no…you were a little surprised that I wouldn’t want to share the experience with him. Instead of sharing that particular experience, he changed every diaper for the first three months when he was home. I think that it is HORRENDOUS that the NZ government would pull the part of the ad where a father was feeding his baby with a bottle. If that is the case we have gone too far in the other direction. I know that there was a time when breastfeeding in public was considered “unnatural”, and that is what the LLL is fighting…but when they become a force for oppression (I know plenty of mothers who have an immense amount of guilt because they have tried and can’t breastfeed…the LLL would disagree here, and say that it is always possible, but at the cost of the mental health of the mother sometimes…) I very rarely take a stand on issues such as this. But after a very life-changing weekend with Ursula Rucker, who insisted we write our truths and not be all wishy washy. I believe that we should have the choice. That you should be able to feed your baby in a healthy manner. You did. You have a beautiful and healthy son. A wonderful family…and are an example to all. Thank you.

  2. Natalie Joy says:

    Thank you so much for this. I had a blog post brewing since I read the article about this weeks ago, but I couldn’t put my frustration into words. You did so much more eloquently than I could have.

  3. Sarah-Jane says:

    Right there with you, Man of Mans! I wanted to feed my son exclusively breast milk but since I could not keep up with him we supplemented with formula. I was glad we did! My darling hubby got to have some beautiful bonding with our little guy. Hubby would get up with him on weekends and have quiet cuddles and feeding at 3 in the morning. He says he wouldn’t trade that for anything. I do not understand why La Leche would think that a father bonding with his baby could be a bad thing! If anything, we need to promote father and baby bonding not suppress it. Shame on them and shame on the NZ government for caving so easily.

  4. Patricia says:

    I don’t understand why so many people think they have the right to tell parents how to feed their babies. My first daughter couldn’t/wouldn’t breastfeed. My second daughter refused to drink breastmilk from the bottle. I spent the first weeks of my first daughters life incredibly stressed about this. Was that really the best thing for me or my daughter? No. The best thing would have been to accept that we tried and move on. Unfortunately society thought differently. There is so much stress already around being a new parent. I wish more people would be accepting of the choices people make. Especially given it’s not always a choice.

  5. Kyle says:

    I’ll add one thing to MoMs’ post, from a local perspective. The story about it being a campaign is a bit of a media beat up – La Leche League did oppose it appearing in the advert and said so, which got it pulled. There wasn’t so much a campaign – they’re on a list of organisations that all get sent draft public health information before it’s finalised for consultation purposes.

    The general feeling around NZ is however that they shouldn’t have opposed it, for many of the reasons that you’ve outlined.