Breast is Best campaigners censor bottle-feeding celeb dad

We’ve just heard an unexpected tale from New Zealand where breastfeeding campaigners have stopped an advert showing rugby star bottle-feeding his baby.

Piri Weepu, an international rugby player who won the World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011, got caught in a media storm when outraged “lactivists” demanded that scenes of him bottle-feeding his 6-month old daughter, Taylor, be cut from a Government ad campaign.

The campaigners, from La Leche League, persuaded the country’s Health Sponsorship Council to edit the image out of the ad with their chief executive Alison Stanton saying the advert showed those behind the funding and making of the commercial “do not understand the issues around promoting, protecting and supporting breast-feeding” according to reports from New Zealand.

Although the ad was never aired, it seems La Leche may themselves have something to learn about “promoting, protecting and supporting” breast-feeding as the decision generated a flurry of negative media headlines and “outraged” both Piri’s supporters and families all over the country who had used formula were outraged according to New Zealand’s Natural Parenting magazine.

According to one marketing expert writing in The American Thinker the move to control the message on breastfeeding has damaged the important cause La Leche League exists to promote.

He said: “This story has appeared on the Today Show, on MSNBC’s website, and on more than 6,000 internet sites around the world, tarring La Leche Leagues worldwide with an extremist brush. While it “won” the issue, New Zealand’s La Leche League is now caught up in a publicity firestorm.  It’s too soon to know just how much this has hurt the cause of breastfeeding — not to mention the advocate groups’ ability to raise money, in the U.S. and around the world, as well as in New Zealand.”

According to Suzanne McFadden in The New Zealand Herald:

“Weepu was blasted last month for feeding his baby daughter” and “pro-breastfeeding groups, in turn, were stiff-armed for their ‘anti-father sentiment’.” Opinion on parenting forums was divided between “mums who applauded a dad helping out and others who felt an All Black hero…..could have a negative influence on breastfeeding”.

What makes the story all the more unusual is that the advert was nothing to do with feeding babies, but an advert to encourage people to stop smoking.

One commentator, Michele Zipp, a mother 0f two, said:

“This stirs up not just a bottle-feeding versus breastfeeding debate, but it feels terribly anti-father. I cannot help but feel really disappointed in La Leche League. I don’t feel anything about a man bottle-feeding his baby is anti-breastfeeding. He can’t breastfeed even if he wanted to. And for all any of us know, there was breastmilk in that bottle.”

Pat Tuohy the Health Ministry’s chief adviser, said: “Piri by all accounts is a great dad and a terrific guy. Probably of all of the people who’ve been damaged he’s probably had the hardest time in all this because he’s just been doing what any dad would do in his situation and good on him.”

And one dad commenting on Facebook said: “I bottle fed both of my kids because my wife didn’t produce enough milk to satisfy their hunger and felt that I bonded with them in a special way as a result. A guy looking after a child is a beautiful thing to see. Seriously what the hell goes through these people’s brains?”

Now a new campaign to get the bottle-feeding scenes re-instated has started on facebook – click here to find the page.

To read different views on this story see:

About

Glen Poole is UK co-ordinator for International Men's Day, Director at the consultancy Helping Men and news editor of insideMAN magazine. Follow him on twitter @HelpingMen or find out more about his work at www.helpingmen.co.uk.

Posted in NEWS
15 comments on “Breast is Best campaigners censor bottle-feeding celeb dad
  1. Denis Stanton says:

    Nobody from La Leche League criticized Piri Weepu or communicated with him in any way. A New Zealand tabloid wrote a false headline “All Black Dad warned” and various blog sites have further embellished the words around an event that didn’t actually occur.

    La Leche League in New Zealand were consulted about a scene showing bottle feeding during the production of a health advertisement. They replied with the words “we suggest the scene is unnecessary” The advertisement was edited in accordance with this advice and broadcast on TV.

    The New Zealand tabloid paper reported this with a misleading headline “All Black Dad warned”. Michele Zipp, and american blogger, expand this the “La Leche League Blasts Dad”.

    La Leche League is a voluntary organization that assists mothers who ask for help with the sometimes tricky task of breastfeeding. It is in no way anti-father.

    • glenpoole says:

      Thanks Dennis – I note your surname is the same as The Chief Executive of La Leche in NZ – are you related? It must be a challenging time dealing with a media storm – good luck.

  2. Kellie says:

    An ad was made, and was still in the editing stages, when the makers of the ad thought “Hey, this footage may clash with another of the governments health initiatives (to increase breastfeeding), lets check it out with a few organisations that would know”, so low and behold they did they, Plunket, Midwifes College and LLL all agreed with the company that the image goes against what the governement is trying to promote (increasing breastfeeding for those who can, particulary Moari women) and that could they replace it with another image of him interacting with his chidlren. Which the company did. There was no ‘campaign’ and the goverment weren’t the ones editing the image, but the Health Sponsorship Coucil who was creating the ad.

    • glenpoole says:

      Thanks for that perspective Kellie – we’ve added a much-wider range of links to this story now so readers can see some of the different viewpoints on this story

  3. Denis Stanton says:

    Hi Glen, well spotted. My wife Alison is the current Director of La Leche League in New Zealand. Not ‘Chief Executive’ as reported above or ‘President’ as reported in some American online press. We appreciated the support we received from LLL when we were raising our children in Ringmer, near Lewes. Alison repaid the help by becoming an accredited leader and she stayed with LLL when we moved to New Zealand.

    Thank you for adding the links above. They are somewhat variable in the accuracy of reporting. The Natural Parent People were close to the incident and I’d go for their report. Some others are reporting third or fourth hand and have invented extra details for impact. In particular some have invented comments addressed to Piri Weepu when there was no such communication at all. LLLNZ did not address any comment or criticism to Piri or use his name.

    • glenpoole says:

      Small world Dennis, we are, as you will have gathered a few miles from there

      Thank you to you and Alison for you commitment to breast-feeding – there has been some research done locally on the impact that involving fathers can have on breast-feeding – http://www.brighton.ac.uk/snm/research/areas/health-and-social-inequalities/projects/fathers-breast-feeding.php

      The story hit two raw nerves for fathers – one is that bottle-feeding is one of the key bonding actions that fathers experience (and that is sometimes bottle feeding with expressed breast milk) – and so dads felt affronted that a beautiful image that reflects a key part of their personal fatherhood experience was censored

      The second broader issue for dads is the feeling of being excluded and/or demonized by the “system” which ranges from bad experiences of “maternity” services for new dads through to separated dads struggling to be part of their children’s lives

      The ‘demonizing’ ranges from simply seeing bumbling media representations of dads all being a bit useless (see the recent Huggies ads in US that were changed after an outcry from dads) through to the presumption that dads who can’t see their kids for various reasons must be a danger to their kids (and society) – so experiencing all of that – and then hearing that what they consider a really positive media representation of fathering is being censored – was, for some dads, outrageous

      And then whatever the rights and wrongs of the story – nothing that LLL has said suggests that they would act differently if the same thing happened tomorrow

      So LLL is left arguing with people about the ‘truth’ of the story but once the dust settles the fact remains that there is no LLLNZ statement coming through saying – you know what, we listened to what people said and we think on balance we got it wrong

      And so the impression we are left with is that if another public information ad came through tomorrow with a dad bottle-feeding his baby LLLNZ’s position would still be that images of fathers bottle-feeding should not be included in such adverts

      And people – even people who support LLL’s work in principle – find that position to be controlling – and the fact that LLLNZ seems to have stood by that position (which it is entitled to do) without seeming to acknowledge or understand the negative impact that censoring images of dads bottle feeding dads will have on some people’s perception of LLL does not reflect well on the movement

      I would like to have seen one of two things from LLL:

      1. LLLNZ saying actually we think we went too far and we’d like to have the image re-instated – and using it as an opportunity to put out positive messages about breastfeeding

      2. LLLNZ at least saying – we understand why people are upset by this decison and that’s not our intention , this is what we’re trying to achieve…………

      Thanks for taking time to get in touch Denis and best wishes to Alison and LLL in their important work

      • Denis Stanton says:

        Hi Glen. I’m very aware that your group is based in familiar territory. That’s part of the reason I thought it was worth responding.

        I think you’ve managed to get past all the nonsense about ‘warnings’, ‘blasts’ and ‘attacks’. That was a concocted tabloid fiction.

        The factual part of this, which you still find objectionable, is that La Leche League in NZ was involved in getting one scene removed from an anti-smoking advertisement prior to it being broadcast.

        I am surprised to read that you expect La Leche League to change their stance and admit they were wrong. I don’t think that’s going to happen and I don’t think it should. La Leche League were asked for their opinion on a government sponsored health advocacy advertisement. They were asked because the makers realized shortly before publication that they had included a scene that contravened the Ministry of Health policy, which is committed to trying to raise New Zealand’s very low breastfeeding rate. After viewing the advertisement Le Leche League wrote back to the Health Sponsorship Council with the advice which I will paraphrase as “keep the dad, loose the bottle”. The actual words were “We suggest the scene is unnecessary”.

        What else would you expect them to do? Would you expect LLLNZ to reply that, despite the advertisement showing a role model feeding a baby with a bottle and thereby undermining an earlier government-sponsored series of advertisements showing that breast feeding is normal, it doesn’t really matter?

      • Denis Stanton says:

        On your point 2, La Leche League has done this. I personally had a meeting with the editor of the Herald On Sunday, the newspaper that stirred this up. I went to see him personally, not as a representative of LLL. I did not get a retraction, though he said he was deeply sorry for the hurt caused. Le Leche League gave an interview to the Herald, the daily paper from the same publishers, in which they explained their position and aims. This was published a week later under the heading “Not us say La Leche League”

        I personally wrote many clarifications and explanation on the the “Bring Back…” facebook page. I saw other comments from two La Leche League leaders I know. All were respectful and careful to avoid the abusive tone of some of the LLL critics. All of our posts were removed by the administrators of the page. We have each been blocked from posting, replying or even liking posts on that page.

      • Denis Stanton says:

        Glen, if you don’t mind me going on a bit further with this I’d like to give a hypothetical illustration of the way I see this to perhaps make it easier to understand LLL’s position. I should say that I’m not a spokesman for La Leche League, but I am a supporter.

        The NZ Ministry of Health sponsors a number of heath campaigns. Anti-smoking is probably the most noticeable, but there are initiatives to promote breast cancer screening, cervical cancer tests, anti-obesity, pro-breastfeeding, seat belt wearing, anti binge drinking, anti drunk driving and avoiding sunburn. This last one relates to the high incidence of skin cancer in New Zealand, which has been linked to childhood sunburn. Now I’m not saying that breast feeding and sun-block are in any way equivalent, but both have a detectable statistical effect on the health of New Zealanders. School uniforms here are required to include sun hats and children are encouraged to wear them in the playground.

        A while ago there was a sports promotion advertisement. It showed children cheerfully enjoying outdoor activities, but the cancer society noticed that the role-model children had been filmed without the recommended sun hats. The advertisement was withdrawn and modified.

        Now the hypothetical part. If some tabloid editor searching for a headline had written something like “Cancer extremists ban school sports” there would have been outraged letters to the editor. Some people might have taken it upon themselves to accuse the good people of the Cancer Society of being interfering bullies. Facebook posters would have written in with statements like ‘I got sunburnt when I was a kid and I’m still alive. Those cancer extremists don’t know what they’re talking about”. Charity donations would have suffered.

        Now, if all that had happened would you expect the Cancer Society to announce that they were mistaken and that protecting children from sunburn doesn’t matter after all?

        An important point to note, and one that reflects our different viewpoints on this, is that la Leche League objected to the scene because it showed bottle feeding as the norm, not because it was the baby’s father doing the feeding. The response would have been the same if it had been the mother holding the bottle. Le Leche League is totally supportive of fathers being involved in child raising. They were taken by surprise by people thinking that they were anti-dad.

  4. Denis Stanton says:

    Hi Glen,

    I’ve just noticed that that you’ve toned down the heading. Thank you for that, and for fixing my spelling earlier. (ant-father was an odd term but I didn’t know how to fix it.)

  5. glenpoole says:

    Hi Dennis

    Great to hear from you again – I found the article you referenced it’s here:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10784833

    I was pleased to see an acknowledgment from one voice within LLL saying maybe there’s lesson for us to learn here, ie:

    “this week’s row showed some women who bottle-fed felt they had not been supported….perhaps by us. That is something that we have to look at … because we don’t intend to judge anybody”

    So LLL is acknowledging there’s something for it to look it in that respect

    What surprises me is that inspite of all the negative publicity and no doubt waste of time and energy dealing with all of this – if you could go back and do it all again – you would!

    Of course we can’t scientifically say for sure whether those 2 magic seconds of Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his baby would have had a negative impact on the rates of breast-feeding in NZ anymore that we can say scientifically for sure whether all the negative publicity generated as a result of that decision will have a negative impact on breast-feeding rates

    I just wonder if, when the dust settles, you might ask yourselves what could you have done differently with the benefit of hindsight – because if you are left better equipped to communicate an important message more effectively in future and support more behaviour change then the time won’t have been wasted

    Good luck raising the rates of breast-feeding in NZ

    Best Regards

  6. Denis Stanton says:

    Hi Glen

    You can be sure there has been a great deal of thought put into wondering what LLL could have done differently. Le Leche League world-wide has been damaged by this episode. A lot of good people providing a valuable volunteer helpline have been hurt.

    In considering whether I think LLL should do the same thing in the same circumstances you need to define what exactly you understand those circumstances to be. At the time LLL wrote their letter to the Health Sponsorship Council the situation was somewhat different from what we know now.

    HSC send a copy of their proposed advertisement to LLL NZ as part of the normal way that health promotional organizations keep each other informed. It would be fair to say that HSC should have known better than to include the bottle scene. As a knowledgeable commentator pointed out, it should never have made it past the cutting room floor. The official LLL response, by letter to the HSC, suggested the bottle-feeding scene was unnecessary. That seems pretty moderate to me and that’s why I think they would do the same thing with the same information. HSC received similar responses from two other organizations and the advertisement was modified. The loving dad looking after his two little girls stayed in, but the bottle feeding was taken out.

    Radio NZ programme Media Watch summed it up pretty well in their weekly analysis. The issue is discussed in the first 8 minutes of this programme
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/bestoftheweek/audio/2510147/best-of-the-week-17-february-2012

    Now if you alter the circumstances with the benefit of hindsight and say that a tabloid newspaper will come out a few days later with a headline claiming that a sporting hero was ‘warned’ about his baby feeding choice, and that many people will jump on this idea and add to it then I think Le Leche League might have decided to put out some press information of their own. The advice that the scene was unnecessary would still make sense, but a public statement to counter the false headline and reassure readers that LLL welcomed dads to baby care might have helped. Of course they had no way to know that the Herald on Sunday was going to write their splash headline and editorial, or even that the the Herald on Sunday was aware of the correspondence received by HSC.

    The HSC have not published the actual letter that Alison sent as Director of La Leche League NZ, and I would not expect them to do so. That was an internal correspondence between health organizations with the same broad objectives. They have let it be known that AFTER the advertisement was re-edited they received some 67 e-mails from breast feeding supporters who heard about the forthcoming advertisement and didn’t know that it had been sent back to the editing room. The HSC have said they some of these were strongly worded. This was not an orchestrated campaign as some would like to think, but again with the benefit of hindsight it might have been better if it hadn’t happened. I expect it will be part of LLL’s considerations of how things might have been handled. Again I should say that I am merely a supporter. I have no say in the running of LLL and do not write on their behalf.

    Thank you for giving time and thought to this correspondence. I realize it’s a minor side issue to your Men’s Network blog. I wrote because the “BringBack…” Facebook page quoted your site and each time that happens the people who feel they have been wronged by LLL see it as further evidence of support.

    Denis

  7. glenpoole says:

    Best of luck Denis

    I fully support the objective of helping more families to support breast-feeding – you guys think that one way to do that is to censor images of dads bottle-feeding their babies – I personally disagree as do a lot of people it seems

    It’s always frustrating when the debate becomes about the method not the objective – and from experience that usually happens when one group or other is seeking to control the method and gets more interested in defending the “right method”

    For me supporting more fathers to be involved generally in their children’s upbringing is SO important – and dads often feel excluded and under-valued or criticized that they are “getting it wrong” – and that’s the raw nerve that LLL has hit upon – and I don’t think you’ve properly stepped inside those shoes to understand that view- so that you can better understand how you might communicate your message more effectively with that audience in future

    As Piri Weepu said (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10783857):

    “What are you going to do if … the mother can’t breastfeed? What am I supposed to do – go find someone who is breastfeeding at 2 o’clock in the morning and see if they can give my daughter milk? It’s not going to happen. I’m pretty sure a lot of dads would like to be more hands on, but when it comes to feeding babies we don’t have that luxury. They are my kids, I’m not going to have anyone tell me how to raise me kids.”

    Thanks for spending time to help us get behind beyond the headlines to the meat of the story. I have spent far more time thinking on this issue than I would have otherwise – not just about breast-feeding, but about how we bring about the different types of behaviour change we want to see in the world in a way that really works

    For me the most useful articles to read were the Herald interview with LLL that you highlighted and also this analysis from a media commentator (and the comments that follow)

    http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/2012/02/la-leche-and-piri-weepu-when-helpful-persuasion-becomes-harmful-fanaticism/

    Best of luck Denis it has been a pleasure to meet you online

    Best

    Glen

  8. […] There was also some dad-related outrage in New Zealand after breast-feeding campaigners censored  a 2 second clip of a world-cup winning All Black botte-feeding his baby daughter – read the Breast is Best story here. […]

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