Monday, October 3, 2011

How the Breastfeeding Industry is destroying Breastfeeding.

Arie Brentnall-Compton

I've spend 10 years (!!) as a loud, active protector of breastfeeding. I've worked within the breastfeeding community, as an LC, been the first person to connect babywearing & breastfeeding as public health issues, a writer & so much more. I've attended countless conferences, tradeshows, speakers' events & taught at just as many. I've been observing an unnerving trend and a concept that James Akre introduced to me over 4 years ago has crystalised of late.

A very large, capital I Industry has built up around "breastfeeding". What started as a small group of committed, WHO Code supporting companies has morphed into thousands of companies marketing "feeding products". Previously Code compliant companies have shifted their focus to "Feeding", offering little or no breastfeeding imagery, or products directly known to interfere with the success of breastfeeding. By creating an industry around the ostensible support of nursing mothers, companies have changed the culture around breastfeeding. The average new mother today is inundated with blog posts, ads, product samples and more more for things like breastfeeding cookies, bracelets, apps, creams, teas, menu plans, covers, hot/cold packs and so much more.

It's an individual's choice to purchase & use what they'd like, make no mistake. The sum total of the entire industry and it's rapid growth over the past few years has accelerated to give the impression to today's first time mother that breastfeeding is expensive, time consuming, requires a lot of paraphernalia & often doesn't work the way they'd planned. It's important to know that the vast majority of these products simply didn't exist even a few years ago. It's also important to note the changes:

-Lansinoh, a beloved product for nursing mothers long endorsed by La Leche League, now sells bottles & other "feeding accessories" in violation of the WHO Code.
-Boppy, one of the first commercial brands of nursing pillow, have rebranded as feeding pillows. There is currently not a single image of breastfeeding on their site or in their marketing.
-Medela, once a Code compliant supplier of pumps & accessories, is now marketing bottles & low quality pumps to mothers.
-Generically, many larger brands of nursing covers (a non-existent product category until about 10 years ago), have shifted their marketing from being a breastfeeding aid (which is debatable) to providing a cover while pumping, bottlefeeding, or simply holding a sleeping baby. The imagery infrequently shows women actually nursing anymore.

I spent upwards of 7 years as a nursing mother. I used a variety of products to make our time nursing a little bit easier, mainly bras & other nursing clothing. There isn't anything at all wrong with using & appreciating the often innovative products designed to serve us during our nursing careers. Indeed (full disclosure), I owned a retail store for 4 years that focused partially on breastfeeding items, although we never sold items we knew interfered with the normalisation of nursing. I also do work as a lactation consultant & breastfeeding educator, with the longterm goal of teaching my way out of a job.

My experiences tell me that all the growth we are seeing does not equate to progress. It appears that breastfeeding initiation/duration rates in many areas are actually on a downward trend. The industry, as a whole, is a death knell for normal breastfeeding.

It's hard for women who have yet to develop a successful nursing relationship to sort out the useful from the useless, the harmless from the harmful. Part of the problem with the growth in items available has been, as I've said, the overall cultural change. While covering with a blanket used to be a choice for women who felt modest or private, mom's groups now regularly have women aplologise to other attendees for having forgotten their nursing cover. When a mother worried about her supply out loud a few years ago, a La Leche League Leader may have helpfully made some suggestions for evaluating if her supply was in fact dropping (it's usually not) & suggested she nurse the baby more to increase the production. That same mother expressing concern on social media today is likely to be sent to purchase a bag of lactation cookies marketed with dubious medical claims. Other products prey on the same fears: bracelets, charms & apps imply you may not remember to nurse on the "correct" side; cookies, teas, supplements imply your supply may be inadequate without them. Nursing covers, hiders, hats & more suggest it's more appropriate to nurse covered with a commercial product.

I want to reiterate that while there will be individuals who found benefit from each of these products, it's not looking like the longterm result of their availability will be a societal increase in breastfeeding initiation or duration. Of perhaps more concern is how quietly some of the lactation industry's biggest players have simply removed the breast from the feeding entirely.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Announcing World Milksharing Week!!!!!

I'm so excited to be asked to be a representative for the first ever World Milk Sharing Week!!!! From September 24-30, 2011, our goal will be to further the mission of promoting human milk as the biologically normal nourishment for babies and children, as well as to celebrate milksharing itself! Stay tuned for more details!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Marketing of Marketing, or Why You Won't "Be Wildly Successful if you Just Hire The Right Guru"

I'm from Alberta, a province where young families tend to make a boatload of money thanks to the oilpatch & other industries where skilled trades make 6 figure incomes without blinking. While these families are growing, they want to spend their disposable income on their children, buying them clothes, toys & accessories from businesses selling mainly online & at trade shows. This means we have more than our share of start up businesses aimed at that demographic, with new ones opening daily.

Way back in the day (2006!!), when my partner & I opened our business, there were a handful of local stores where you could purchase a few brands of baby carriers & cloth diapers from, as well as a handful of online Canadian stores. As quickly as we grew, the marketplace did too & there are now more than 20 (at my count) Edmonton-based businesses selling those items.

What's really grown exponentially are the hand made accessories & the trade shows they're sold at. Again, where only a few years ago there were a handful of major trade shows, craft fairs & local markets where companies selling baby & childrens products could exhibit, there are now dozens in the area.

I realise these are local examples, but I think they illustrate the trend really well. No one is making a living doing this because the market is so saturated, so when solicitations for marketing pop up (we get offers weekly!), they're totally tempting to small business.

"Hey Mompreneurs, want to increase sales while looking fabulous & having the dream life you've always dreamed of?!? Subscribe to my blog/e-book/website & attend my momseveningout/wine&cheese/fabworkshop & learn all my secrets!!!"

For no charge, you can often glean some ideas or tips; for a pretty small fee, usually a few hundred bucks, you can hire a marketing consultant to help build your brand. What annoys me as a small business owner is that the marketing of the marketing seems to take precedence over the substance of evaluating the viability of growth of your business.

The tips provided essentially boil down to:

-Network, network, network, at gatherings, trade shows, etc. Get to know other business owners & make sure they know you.
-Tweet, Facebook & Blog so you develop a big fan base

These aren't bad suggestions & they certainly reflect the business plan of most small companies these days. The problem is that to charge for your advice, you should be able to establish that these strategies work. I want to see hard data- increased sales volume, sales to a new customer base, increased market share, etc. Hiring marketing help can be a great use of money, if they can provide results- but I don't think the marketing of marketing offers that. Time & money spent on this kind of marketing is likely wasted, save it for a company with legitimate experience in your industry & ability to prove their effectiveness with increased sales.

Legitimate marketing takes a look at your product, the market, your pricing, customer base etc & establishes a concrete & realistic plan for advertising and growth. It does not suggest you spam other businesses by posting your links on their Facebook wall. It does not see "networking" with similar local businesses competing for the same share of the same market as key to your growth and success.

There's nothing wrong with being a small business, making a nice product and earning income you're satisfied with. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big, either!! In a market like ours, though, where it's quite saturated & we're all fighting for pieces of a shrinking pie, a reality check is needed. At the end of the day, I think we as business owners need to stick to what we do best and avoid the fluffy marketing/happiness/lifestyle gurus. Simple concepts like knowing your customers, listening to their needs and providing them with what they're asking for are what builds business long term.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I don't believe in Unassisted Childbirth AKA a rose by another name

By Lee-Ann Grenier

Two months ago I gave birth to my third child at home in what many would describe as an unassisted childbirth (UC) or freebirth. Throughout the pregnancy and up to his birth this is how I thought of it as I prepared for the arrival of our second son. I felt uneasy with the terminology and others I spoke to felt the same way. "Unassisted Childbirth" sounds reckless and cavalier; to some it implies a complete disregard for medical care even in the event of a true emergency. No one I know who has had a planned unassisted birth would avoid seeking appropriate medical care when necessary. In fact many women attempting freebirth have transferred to hospital when they felt it necessary. Sometimes it can be hard to separate from those who plan to birth without professional assistance and those who have their babies at home (or in the car, or Wal-Mart) by mistake. Media portrayals of these births where everyone is "miraculously fine" often confuse the issue.

The term itself causes some dissension among the families who choose this type of childbirth. The discussion usually centres around what qualifies as UC. Does having an unregistered midwife or a traditional birth attendant count? What if you have a doula, family member, or friend attend the birth? Some people even go so far as to define an unassisted birth as one where no one is present but the mother. Does a birth where one hires a midwife but doesn't call them count, or one where the couple camps out in the vicinity of the hospital qualify? These discussions can become very heated and polarizing.

The term Freebirth can be equally confusing but on a more emotional level. I find this wording invokes feelings of easy painless birth that, in my experience, can be quite deceiving. Free- from what, and for what, were concepts that I wrestled with both during the pregnancy and after the birth. Although a couple that chooses this type of birth might find freedom from the medical establishment, it comes with the heavy price of taking complete responsibility for the birth. There is the freedom to choose how one labours and delivers in this type of birth, but that can also be experienced by a strong woman in a hospital setting (with the right kind of support ;). There is the freedom to provide ones own care and comfort, but there is cost of doing so. The more I wrestled with these concepts the more apparent it became to me that the terms didn't fit.

My son's birth was not unassisted. We had friends come to help in the way that one needs with a homebirth. They dealt with the older children, fetched food and drink, provided warm towels, warmed up the pool and took pictures. We had friends light candles and provide us with their warm thoughts throughout the labour day. My husband supported me both physically and emotionally. We called upon the sage advice of a doula friend over the phone. At the moment of my son's arrival his birth was assisted by me; pushing him into the world, my husband; holding my body, and my dear friend Kirsten providing pushing support and calling the play by play. I suppose the biggest assistance came from the force or energy that created me and gave my body the ability to birth my baby (I call it God, but you have your name for it). So the question that came to my mind after he was born was how could I call this unassisted? Many asked and I felt hesitant to use these words in reply. I felt that if I said Elijah's birth was unassisted it would be very unappreciative of all the people who gave us their love and support on that day.

Elijah's birth was also not free. It was hard work, mentally and physically. It took a whole 12 hour day, and the toll on my body was (understandably) high. We paid a price for operating outside the system (imagine how hard it is to register this kind of birth) in terms of providing our own care and dealing with the feelings other had about our birthing choices. I will admit that we did have the freedom to let my son's birth unfold unhindered.

In the reflective moments since his birth I struggled to come up with the right words to describe the way in which we chose to bring our second son into the world. Eventually it came to me, what we had was a traditional homebirth. We called upon the support we needed to have the birth unfold in the way we wanted it too. If we had required it we would have sought the care of a midwife or the services provided at our local hospital. But we didn't, and this is how birth happened, traditionally. Sisters, mothers and women friends have been birth assistants for eons and at these births more experienced midwives or doctors were only called in when things got tricky, and in this way birth worked, assisted appropriately. So the next time someone asks me if I had an unassisted birth I'll say "No, I had a traditional homebirth." and leave it at that.