Parenting is more than a feeding choice

20:20, Feb 06 2012

You've no doubt heard the big kerfuffle about Piri Weepu's anti-smoking ad; it's pretty hard to miss since it's been all over the internet, newspaper, talkback radio and television. The thing is, there was no kerfuffle until this article ran in the Herald on Sunday.  

The government-funded Health Sponsorship Council, the group making the anti-smoking ad, captured footage of Piri with his daughter, including a scene of him bottle-feeding his daughter.  

Eventually realising that the bottle-feeding footage might compromise the message of the government-funded breastfeeding campaign, HSC made La Leche League and other organisations aware of the ad, and LLL provided feedback. The league's response was that the bottle-feeding footage was unnecessary, given the other father-daughter interactions and that it would detract from other health promotion campaigns.  

I don't know about you, but I'd certainly prefer that my tax dollars went towards promoting consistent messages.

Another organisation initiated an email campaign. A line which has provoked much outrage ("The damage that this shot of a celebrity All Black will do to breastfeeding in New Zealand Aotearoa will be significant") was from those emails, not from La Leche League correspondence.

HSC made the decision to edit the two seconds of bottle-feeding footage out. No big deal.


No big deal, until the spin in the Herald on Sunday article and the follow-up editorial pointed fingers firmly at La Leche League, presumably with the intent of inciting exactly this sort of reaction. A torrent of abuse resulted, on the NZ Herald site, the LLLNZ Facebook page, and elsewhere. It even extended to volunteers receiving abusive phone calls at their homes. 

What I've found most revealing about the fervently unleashed abuse is that people have the completely wrong idea about who La Leche League members are. You see a story about "how horrible La Leche League is" and it turns out to be something a midwife has said, or "LLL is so judgmental", and it turns out to be an old lady on the street who scowled at them.  

I don't understand why people find it so hard to comprehend that hospital midwives are not La Leche League, lactation consultants are not La Leche League, Plunket nurses are not La Leche League, and random grumpy old ladies aren't La Leche League either.  

La Leche League is made up of volunteers who give their own time to work with women who call them or come along to meetings. Women come to them to get support and information to help them succeed in breastfeeding. I am not an LLL member, but I know my local group has formula-feeding parents. They wouldn't be there if they felt judged and belittled.

I think it is great to have a young, Maori role-model showing the importance both of not smoking and of positive parenting. I think we'd all agree that bottle-feeding doesn't make you a bad parent, any more than breastfeeding makes you a good one. So in modelling good parenting, how his daughter is fed is irrelevant, right?  

Which is what La Leche said. Without those few seconds, the ad still conveys a positive parenting message, and the anti-smoking message, while not compromising the government-funded breastfeeding campaign. It's a shame that Piri's core message has been overwhelmed by finger-pointing and name-calling, and that a volunteer organisation that helps parents who come to it has been so vilified and attacked.

» Follow PG on Facebook