Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Sin of Omission

Breastfeeding Positions
YouTube – All About Breastfeeding…the Nestle Way….
The Sin of Omission
What a masterly example of the misleading art of formula promotion we have here! When they are handing out awards to the media experts who sit and construct moving image to bewitch, bother and bewilder… this promotional video will win several awards hands down. The amount of care that’s been taken in this info-mercial on behalf of Nestle formula manufacturers is quite breathtaking. It leads audiences along with cosy images and hinted at expertise that completely belies the truth that it has really been constructed to send one message: that breastfeeding is some super human (superwoman) endeavour and really, don’t bother – just reach for their product instead.
So seamlessly has the real message behind this info-mercial been hidden, so heavily has the sugar been piled upon the poisonous pill lurking in the depths, it’s worth brushing off some of that sugar coating to examine more closely how the poison is being peddled. To expose how are they managing to present such a cosy view of breastfeeding whilst at the same time ruthlessly sending the message that most women aren’t up to it, and here, have this formula bottle to help you out of your inadequacy. It’s quite a complex unweaving… so if you are sitting comfortably, I’ll begin….
Warning bells should begin ringing for the alert viewer, in the opening titles. Apart from the nice soft focussed image of that baby feeding, in standard colours to suggest clinical cleanliness – blue and white - there is that title: All About Breastfeeding. And that’s all there is. It’s what’s missing, that should set the bells ringing.
Who made this video? Name me one reputable health information video, commercial video… fictional drama even, that doesn’t list the company who made it? This video tells us nothing about who made it, when it was made, who is in it, or where the funding came from? For all its professional quality, and a seeming message of ‘support’ in the area of health education, this video is orphaned, and has no credentials. Where is the list of sponsors/supporters/experts? When do you discover it’s made by Nestle? Answer… when you follow the link to their website.
Well, perhaps we don’t need to know this sort of stuff – after all, who cares who made it and what it’s for? We’ll move right on, straight onto a nice smiling expert to talk to us. There, a lovely doctor, a paediatrician, telling us what we need to know to breastfeed successfully! How nice. How photogenic… don’t you think that nice doctor lady is suspiciously photogenic? I wonder what her name is, and where she practises…?
Oh dear. More missing details. No name, no statement she is a doctor, just dressed like one, and in a doctor’s office with those nice kid’s drawings on the wall! Look at the huge range of files this actress has with her on set! My, they really got the detail down pat, didn’t they? I bet no one has even noticed that she has no name, no credentials and no ‘expertise’.. although if I squint, does that say M.D on her top? Wonder if she lists this gig on her CV back at the agents… or, no… you don’t think she’s actually a real doctor at Nestle do you? After all, she does go on to then introduced Laurie, ‘their’ Nurse Practioner? Okay, so Laurie is a nurse and works for Nestle. Interesting that Laurie isn’t a lactation professional ‘tho, isn’t it? Or a midwife… or a… oh dear, you can go on for a quite a while, listing everything that’s missing here, can’t you. Get used to it ‘though, for the list of what’s not in this video gets quite long – references to any evidence based research, or even guidelines, being just one the many omissions.
You have to hand it to actress/doctor however, she has a very comforting manner when direct addressing you via the camera. A picture of reassurance and competency, which is extremely important, as it’s her caring soft tones that are taking you past the sub-text in her words – a sub-text made more potent by her ‘medical’ expertise. Let’s have a closer look at what’s she’s saying, and how that pans out in the Nestle formula world:
“breast milk offers a perfect nutritional balance including protein, carbohydrates fat and other nutrients.”
You know, that almost sounds like how a can of formula reads, that list… she wouldn’t be putting it like that in order to make clear that what’s in the milk, is in the can too? Gosh, how cynical of me…
“When you first begin breastfeeding, it’s a new skill for both Mom and baby”
Yeah, I know – it’s a skill to be learned.. but no, wait, the baby comes hard wired with it, doesn’t it? Oh Noes! You mean we both won’t know how to do it?
“Successful breastfeeding is the result of patience, practice and proper positioning…”
It is? Oh dear. I’m not very good at patience. Will the baby suffer while I ‘practise’, and how can I get help on this ‘proper positioning? This sounds really hard work.
“but once you learn the basics, it can become an easy and natural activity that you’ll both look forward to..”
Oh good, I was getting discouraged… how long exactly will it be hard, unnatural and something I dread? How long does it take to master ‘the basics’? I have tender nipples and… gulp. And, another thing, if that’s the basics, how much more stuff do I have to learn after that? You know, I’m so pleased you’re explaining all this to me… I had thought this stuff was much easier than it is! I’m pleased to know it _can_ be rewarding for some.
“Before you begin breastfeeding please remember that whatever you eat can affect your baby.”
It can? I can harm my baby with foods? Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that… do you have a list of things I can eat and things I can’t?
“You will want to limit how much caffeine and alcohol you drink”
I will? Uhm, you mean you know how much of both I take in, and so you know I need to limit it? Oh dear… no coffee? Do you have any recommendations for me, so I know how much I can take?
“and you may want to avoid the foods that make you feel gassy.”
This is starting to look like a raw deal…. is KFC okay? I did eat a lot of that during the pregnancy, and I’m wondering if I can damage my baby by eating it now…. gassy… isn’t that what makes babies cry? Oh dear, I’m going to make the baby cry if I eat the wrong stuff? Please tell me you have a list of what the wrong stuff is!
“Please talk with your health care provider about any prescription or over the counter medications you are taking”
Arggh! I hadn’t thought of that, I have allergies and I’m going to harm the baby if I take my meds? You are so right, I need to get my doctor’s permission to see if I’m safe to breastfeed.
I could go on, but realistically, it’d take several pages to properly breakdown all the messages that are being sent out here.
Couple of things I can’t let pass by though – notice how often ‘Laurie’ talks about tugging at nipples, nipple damage and mothers giving up because of it. She understands that you are scared of nipple pain, and she is telling you up front that it does happen, and it does turn women off breastfeeding… but she can help stop that from happening. She also, completely outrageously, tells you that you are going to have to wake up every three hours during the night to wake the baby up to feed it! This is when the lack of reference to any actual guidelines or facts about newborns and their sleeping behaviour, becomes actual mis-information. But it plays so beautifully on mother’s fears that they will never sleep again, and they will never manage to hack it in the breastfeeding stakes...
And that brings me to the most objectionable part of this info-mercial – Laurie and her ministrations. For whilst she’s all soft spoken and ‘meeting the mother where she’s at’. notice a couple of things about Laurie. To begin with, the mother is incapable of actually managing to latch the baby without Laurie’s hand on the back of the baby’s head. Laurie is the boss – the do-er, the person making it happen. The mother is unskilled, unconfident and worried. Laurie eases these worries by being the one that does the work for the mother. Good job she’s there – for the message is that without Laurie, no mother could latch her baby on without this ‘tugging at nipples’ that is going to cause ‘damage’. A lovely nice kind and calm nurse to get her over the lack of her own skill – pity the poor mothers who won’t have Laurie there. Oops – that’s most of us. Dang.
Worse however, and this is quite sickening, we never see the baby latch properly. Whenever Laurie is explaining how to, the camera is either on her face, or the anxious mother’s: it is not on the baby achieving latch. She talks about the baby’s mouth opening wide, but the shot is of a closed mouth. She talks about how the baby will root and latch on – we never see it. The camera pulls away from the mother’s attempts to latch an uninterested and avoiding the nipple baby, and suddenly Laurie’s hand is there forcing the baby onto the breast. Examine the editing and these shots are inter-cut out of sequence (Laurie has had to change position to get her hand behind the baby’s head in that manner) and do not reflect the rooting sequence Laurie describes. The second latch is even worse – they don’t even pretend to show a latching baby, there is more footage of Laurie’s face describing a latch, and then a jump cut into a fully latched baby.
Any mother using this video as a tool to latching, is going to be sorely disappointed: it doesn’t show one. Another omission.
Why it doesn’t show it, of course, is probably the same reason why it just fades out, into nothingness, after its set up a huge anxiety about not knowing how you know if the baby has enough, or how to gauge it’s weight gain. (Or at least I hope that's the reason... I'd hate to think there's more of this drivel out there.) It doesn’t show a latch, and it fades out without an ending, to make the mother think she’s missed the ‘best bit’ and to go to the Nestle website to find the rest of it.
Not that she knows it’s a Nestle web site until she gets there.
But she does know a lot of things by the time she gets to Nestle: she knows she has to restrict her diet, stop having coffee or alcohol, stop taking medication, find an expert to help her learn the difficult and stressful skill of latching in order to stop her nipples being damaged, lock herself away in a quiet room with no distractions, ignore her other kids, eat and sleep to a three hour schedule (that’s her, not the baby) and not worry too much about not knowing how much ‘cream’ her baby is getting. (Nice touch that, ‘cream’ – connection to dairy.)
Oh yes, and she also knows how hard it is to breastfeed, and that, deep down, she knows she’s not up to it. Good job the link takes her to formula adverts then.. that poor baby is going to starve to death waiting for an exhausted and stressed mother to ‘learn the basics’.
Nestle: every breastfeeding mother’s friend. Honest.


Alison said...

Absolutely brilliant!!! Thank you for this analysis.

Marit said...

In some shots it looks like a doll in the mother's arms ... doesn't it?

Janaki said...

Yeah, that really made me wonder, you see this baby sleeping in mommy's arms and wonder, at least if you're a mother who's breastfed, "How did she get that baby to go from sleeping to nursing???" They never show the baby starting to root or bring her arms up to her face or anything.

I have had to alter my diet, but only to cut out dairy. I would have to use either soy or alimentum if I used formula, so that's a big reason for me not to formula feed. Those things are $25-30 per can!!

Marit said...

What would you believe is the aim of the film and making it available on youtube?

Morgan said...

I think the film aims to do a few things... it's set up to make you think whoever made the video cares about mothers and their needs - when you find out it's Nestle, you think "Why, how caring and responsible of them" and you will think kindly on their products: ie you will buy their products.

However, it also is set up to make mothers think they really aren't up to caring for their infants without support - so you then _need_ their products to suceed.

I also think there is a cynical note of "See look, we do understand and support breastfeding" to deflect from their critics. I think I've answered that fully in the post.

Why is it on YouTube? To catch the mother who is struggling and doesn't have enough support, and who is looking for help, and to both tell her she isn't going to make it (why else show a latch without actually showing a baby latch?) and then sell her her 'rescue package'.

This is the worst aspect - putting this in search engines at YouTube so that a mother actually looking for help, will get this video put in front of them. If you are already struggling, the 'instructions' shown here, will almost condemn you to failure. Hence, you will need.... formula.

One wonders how many of the 96 000+ people who've watched this video, then went into the Nestle site, and registered for mailings?

Morgan said...

On the doll like aspect... if you look closely, the mother's stomach is pixellated when she lifts up her top to breastfeed the baby. On the scenes where the baby is quietest, the baby's head is pixellated. Quite why they are fuzzing out the baby's head... perhaps they are covering up when they have substituted a doll?

Morgan said...

Altering the diet is required for a small proportion of women - mostly because as humans, we aren't designed to ingest milk from other species.

But again, they are playing up on this far too much, by starting with a suggestion that the mother's diet is dangerous to the infant, and that all mothers will need to restrict their diet.

Of course, they're not going to mention the small matter of dairy intolerence... as that would raise the issue that their product is made of cow's milk, and far more babies are going to have problems with their formula, than the few that are sensitive to their mother's having dairy... and that's another omission.