Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Outstandingly Healthy - Women's Health Action Trust, NZ

When I came across a thumbnail of the above poster, and used it in a previous post, I hadn't a clue where it was from. It just popped out out of nowhere, in a standard image search on breastfeeding. It was too small to read the writing, or to see the logo.
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So I went looking for it. Not only do I hate not knowing where web resources come from, I so appreciated the poster itself. It's superb, and as an 'official' health education poster, goes a long way to dealing with the lactaphobia we all deal with, day in, day out.
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I tracked it down to the Women's Health Action Trust in New Zealand, and I clicked myself into a veritable web wonderland of excellent breastfeeding protection resources. For not only does this charitable trust produce excellent breastfeeding protection posters - it takes the time to explain out the process, and obstacles, they went through, in order to produce them. As a Lactavism 101 site, I heartily recommend you go through and start reading.
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The poster, for instance, which was produced way back in 2004, for the 2005 World Breastfeeding Week poster campaign - how forward thinking was that! - has an entire essay written up on whys, wherefores and whos. Storm In A D Cup details out all the problems of trying to produce a poster about toddler nursing, raising points we would all recognise, and presume upon, the second we clapped eyes on the image:
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The process uncovered a number of unwritten rules and assumptions that form real barriers to mothers breastfeeding older children and they are fascinating. We discuss some of them here.The unwritten rules for breastfeeding older children in public:
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1. If the child being breastfed is not a baby then the child should be 'a little toddler', 'a younger child', 'a 9-10 month child', "I have a problem with a child breastfeeding when they can ask for it".
2. The act of breastfeeding needs to be: 'discrete', 'private', 'less exposed', 'top pulled up' and 'tasteful'.
3. The breastfeeding mother and child should be 'loving', 'arm wrapped around the child', 'a more likely feeding posture', 'baby on lap', 'motherly', 'held in mother's arms' the child cuddling up on mum's knees' and 'don't sit with legs apart'.
4. Everybody should breastfeed in the same way so the image has to conform to personal experiences of breastfeeding: "some of us have breastfed our own children through to toddlerhood but at no time found it necessary to pull our shirts down", "We have never in all our years, seen anyone breastfeeding their toddler in this position." "We are all mothers who have breastfeed our own babies and have nothing against breastfeeding in public if it is done in a sensitive and tasteful way".
5. Can't have the child holding a banana: 'the banana can be seen as a phallic symbol', 'a banana milk shake?'
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As a film major, I had spotted the 'problem' with the phallic banana! Had you? Or, more obviously, given the disgusting language used by lactaphobes, I could see how critics would go on about the child holding the banana, whilst on the breast. Obscenity being in the eye of the beholder... anyone? Personally, I liked that the toddler held healthy food, reinforcing that solids was part of this child's diet.
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But I should add this to the rules of breastfeeding in public: never hold a banana!
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More looking around found the famous Lucy Lawless image came from the same stable. Again, an excellent little write up of the poster's inception, Warrior Princess in new role accompanies the poster:
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While the response was largely positive, it provoked some controversy. A few people questioned the combination of breastfeeding and sexy sophistication."It challenges the dominant media imagery of the breast", explains Sian. "We are saturated with sexual images of the breast on billboards, TV, in magazines, but here we have an image of a breast being used as nature intended it. Even just seeing a photo of breastfeeding is unusual in our culture and for every one breastfeeding image, there are 250 images of bottles and artificial feeding. In this environment a photo of a well-dressed woman breastfeeding her healthy, well-fed baby (and Xena the warrior princess what's more), is a political act."
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I have to admit I've had to limit my reading in the site - it would take hours to look at all the archived material they have, on all their poster campaigns, and that's just the breastfeeding section. The charity looks at all aspect's of women's health, including domestic violence, and their work is clearly both targeted beautifully, and monitored for effect. Unlike so many breastfeeding protection campaigns, where the only people the posters are speaking to, is the people who made them and funded them, effective market research of the target groups is taking place before, during and after, the making of these campaigns.
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No wonder they get it right so often!
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But if you only go to this site once, please please please I urge you, you must go their excellent How Supportive Are You Towards Breastfeeding Mothers? quiz (pdf).
Here's question 8:
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A mother breastfeeds her baby by unbuttoning her blouse from the top down. Do you?
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A. Ask "Would you like a glass of water?"
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B. Say "Don't expose your breasts around here."
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C. Say "Don't get me wrong, I support breastfeeding but shouldn't you lift your top up and breastfeed discreetly?"
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I, for one, will be printing off a lot of copies of this quiz, and leaving them out for every so supportive friend and relative.
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If you do visit the site, and admire their work as much as I do - tell them. Everyone is this field has to prove their worth in terms of jobs, finance and group strategy. We all struggle with lack of resources, lack of understanding from Those Above, and general fatigue from feeling we're not achieving much. Just taking two minutes to say "I really like your stuff, and I think you are doing a fabulous job..." can works wonders. From sending someone feeling beleaguered home with a smile on their face, to perhaps helping another year's funding happen. If you think they do a good job tell them. :-)
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And don't forget to rave about the Outstandingly Healthy poster: outstanding achievement.
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all images are copyright Women's Health Action Trust

6 comments:

Theryn said...

I breastfed my daughter, about 18 months at the time, at a park like that one day. There was one other mom there and she looked long and hard at me before speaking. I expected to be criticized. Instead she looked longingly at her newborn and said, "isn't it nice when they can nurse standing up."

Morgan said...

That's priceless! :-) Theryn, could you hit the link and send your comment to WHAT in NZ? I ask, as given how many times they were told "No women has ever nursed like that!", I imagine having a mother on record with them as saying "I did that!" would be worth a lot to them. :-)

sophiedb said...

This is one of the reasons why I'm looking forward to emigrating! NZ isn't perfect, but getting there :)

(..as opposed to hit-and-miss in the UK..)

SheBear said...

Hi Morgan! I found your blog through the facebook group, and I have been blown away stunned by your writing and insight. You are my new hero! :) I have 4 children, and I have been nursing, non-stop, since my oldest was born 7 yeas ago. Through pregnancy, tandem, etc...but while I've been absolutely confident that this is the right way for me to parent, I've never thought so deeply about the process, the social commentary, the politics and the history as I have since reading your blog. Thank you for that! :)

Just wanted to comment that I took the quiz and I scored 29, LOL! The point I "missed" was on question #2, which asks, "You are in a restaraunt, having a meal with a mother, admiring her baby and talking to her across the table, when she starts breastfeeding, you:"

Well, I answered C: I would become distracted and look at the baby breastfeeding. The answer they wanted was that I'd not miss a beat, not change my gaze, not appear to notice at all. LOL! The truth is, I would not likely be sharing a meal in a restaurant with a woman who was not already a good friend of mine. So, when she starts feeding the baby that I've been admiring, I think it is much more likely, and more natural of a reaction given the context, that I would stop mid-sentence and coo something about how sweet, how hungry, how cute, etc.! So, I'm inclined to give myself the full 30 points....Noticing that a mother is nursing her child, allowing yourself (in a natural, non-rude way) to watch the process and enjoy the sweetness of the moment is not the same as being unsupportive of public breastfeeding or unsupportive of breastfeeding mothers. IMO, totally ignoring the nursing relationship, as this quiz seems to imply is the proper thing to do, is unrealistic and rather less supportive than noticing--and appreciating--the nursing dyad for what it is. I'm tempted to leave a comment to this effect as feedback to the site, and I'm curious to hear your opinion on this question. Is it better to totally ignore, except/unless the mother is specifically soliciting your help or advice?

Morgan said...

Hi SheBear,

I do think it's a tricky one. My instinct is to go "Ooh, pretty baby" as well. But I once did this, in a shopping Mall, when a woman sat down beside me and began feeding her baby, and she was obviously freaked. Her body language screamed she felt intensely uncomfortable. Thinking back to the how I felt the first few times, with my very new baby, I was so concerned with 'the juggle', I'd have died if anyone, even a friend, had commented. Purely as I was trying to act as if I wasn't doing anything at all out of the normal, in order to protect myself from the sense of emotional threat/exposure.

I think it depends on context and culture. And has less to do with how well you know the mother, and far more to do with how young the baby is, and how often she's practised the juggling skills, and how confident she is. Perhaps wait for a signal from the mother, that she's happy to discuss the baby, during feeding?

Some lucky woman have no feelings of fear over feeding in public, even the first time. Some take a few weeks, or months, to build to feeling natural and comfortable. In absence of knowing exactly where they are in the scale, perhaps completely avoiding mentioning it, until you've got a signal from them, is the a good ground rule?

After all, the baby has been there all along, why the need to comment on how cute it is, because it's feeding? Is it our natural affinity to support?

Or does it feel rude not to acknowledge something so vital?

I have seen mothers express they are outraged, when they get a 'well done' for breastfeeding. They find it patronising, when breastfeeding is the norm.

I guess we have to suck it and see, on some stuff. :-) Take the template of not noticing or reacting, until the mother signals otherwise, as a good rule of thumb?

Anonymous said...

This is also one of my favourite posters. I use it in my presentations and was lucky enough to get a stack of hard copy ones sent to me (might even have one left to pop in the post to you- have to look).
You might also like to look around on the site for their breastfeeding and work poster....some more controversy when they used a breastfeeding male to make a point!
Karleen