propaganda

Have you seen “The Sisterhood of Motherhood” video that is flying around the internet yet? In the video, mothers and fathers of all races and backgrounds get ready to rumble at the playground against other parents with competing views about breastfeeding and bottle feeding, natural birthing, and other newborn parenting practices. It’s a funny, edgy video that ramps up the stereotypes then turns it all around when one of the babies is endangered in a runaway stroller. The video’s message is that we are all parents and all want our kids to be safe and healthy, so stop the judging and mommy-warring, and instead focus on what we have in common and the health of the kids.

Sounds great, right? Many people think so, because the video has gone viral. It’s had over six million views in the few weeks since its release by Similac. Many people who have shared the post seem to love the sentiment of parents (mainly moms) not being so judgmental anymore and stopping the competitive parenting treadmill. But don’t you wonder, even just a little bit, why Similac, a formula company, is heading up this movement?

In my opinion, this is a phenomenal piece of propaganda designed to divert attention away from the emerging scientific evidence showing how damaging artificial infant formula is to our public health.

Similac makes billions of dollars a year peddling a replacement for a naturally occurring, environmentally friendly, renewable resource which provides better nutrition for human infants than the product it manufactures from increasingly questionable agricultural sources that contain GMO’s and pesticides. Similac and other artificial infant formula manufacturers have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars each year to wind their tentacles around diverse opinion-makers throughout society, from government regulatory agencies, to medical training programs, to hospitals, and throughout the media.

Large portions of their budgets are devoted to carefully crafting the public opinion that artificial infant formula is a healthy feeding option for babies and a necessity for new parents. They make the necessity reality by undermining breastfeeding by influencing doctors’ and nurses’ training on breastfeeding, subsidizing formula use in hospitals, and offering breastfeeding bags, coupons, and discounts for formula to new parents as though they are doctor recommended, amongst other methods of blurring the lines between healthcare and commerce.

They work very hard to create the belief that their product is a close second to breast milk – close enough to make formula feeding or breastfeeding little more than a lifestyle choice.  After several decades of widespread formula use, we are a nation in a healthcare crisis which formula played a part in creating. The formula industry stands to lose a great deal of money if savvy, health-conscious consumers recognize the extent to which they are being duped. If today’s new parents look deeper into the science of how formula is affecting the health of our infants, they will find that formula increases their baby’s chances of developing obesity and diabetes, and can cause other serious health problems as well.

All of this is happening within a social environment that creates unattainable standards for parents, especially mothers, which the formula industry helped to create through its advertising.  When they are properly supported, women have the ability to give birth and feed their babies with little need for spending money on consumer products, but those abilities are completely undermined. As the almighty dollar has become the arbiter of all things of value and morals, it is no wonder that everything parents do requires a consumable commodity and is framed as a “choice,” and those choices are laden with morality influenced by their ability to create profit for one entity or another. While the mommy wars are largely a creation of the media, it’s no wonder that moms and dads are constantly questioning themselves and each other whether or not they are doing the best they can for their children.

All this questioning of one another has caused unexpected consequences though. It has raised curiosity about what is actually the better choice. It has inspired scientific inquiry into the beliefs that underpin the medical industrial complex, and in the case of maternity care and infant feeding, the consumer commodity-driven “choices” have come up short.

In response, Similac is harnessing the angst they helped to create and offering a panacea; a nonjudgmental place where all parents can just get along with each other, focus on their kids, and get expert pregnancy, infant feeding, and parenting advice, all while receiving hundreds of dollars in offers for free infant formula and stylish bags in which to carry it.

It is a brilliant ploy because Similac knows that the earlier they have contact with an expectant woman, the more likely she will remain a loyal customer throughout her infant feeding years. And how unbiased will those infant feeding specialists be about breastfeeding when Similac is paying their salaries that put food on the table for their own children? Essentially, in creating this “public service” video (which does not come across as an advertisement for Similac at all) it is saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. We will help you poor confused souls to get along,” while laying the groundwork for increasing its market share and profits.

By placing the blame for the parental discord at the feet of the shallow, insecure parents in the commercial, Similac obscures its own part in creating the much bigger social scaffolding that creates the structure in which all parenting decisions are made. And, it does so in a way that greatly benefits its mission of making as much money as it possibly can, regardless of the health consequences to our children. My guess is that it’s unlikely that Similac or any other formula company will shift its sizable advertising budget towards developing breastmilk banks, improving American workplace practices for breastfeeding mothers, or offering advanced training to doctors and nurses in maintaining the normalcy of the birthing process to facilitate optimal breastfeeding initiation anytime soon, even though that is what’s likely to help babies stay healthy.

Artificial infant formula can save lives in some cases, but it is not the health and lifestyle necessity that Similac would like for us to believe. Conflict, questioning choices, and sometimes shame and embarrassment are the catalysts for searching for truth which can reveal larger issues that are beyond anything moms and dads at the playground create. Have we become so distanced from our own needs, self-confidence, and self-esteem that we need a formula company to teach us how to be kind and supportive of one another during one of the most challenging tasks in life? How much will that cost us? Or shall we shine the disinfecting sunlight right back towards the shady practices Similac is trying to cover up?

I do not believe parents should shame each other for making individualized decisions about what is best for their children or families. I know that formula feeding is not a lifestyle choice, but a necessity for some families, and they should not be made to feel “lesser” for using formula any more than a diabetic should be made to feel “lesser” for using insulin to stay healthy. I do believe each us of needs to use our skills in media literacy to recognize this advertisement for what it is: propaganda that has been artfully designed to conceal the hidden motive of a billion-dollar corporation to continue to make a fortune at the expense of our children’s health. And, it does so by pointing us towards the exact things it jeopardizes, but we as parents most value – our children. It places us parents in the role of the jealous, insecure baddies to deflect attention away from Similac’s own truly morally deficient practices. It does it without us realizing that’s what is happening, because that is what propaganda is designed to do.

 

Michal Klau-Stevens is The Birth Lady.  She is the creator of the Mastering Maternity™ system, a program that helps childbearing women confidently approach pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, early parenting, and navigating the maternity healthcare system.  She is a maternity consultant, pregnancy coach, consumer expert on maternity care issues, Past President of BirthNetwork National, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother.  Her website is TheBirthLady.INFO. Find her on Facebook at The Birth Lady page!

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