Dove breastfeeding ad leads to a feeding frenzy

A new advert by Dove, regarding breastfeeding in public, is divisive and has caused alarm among mums, writes Jen Hogan

In Ireland the legislation covers breastfeeding mothers and babies to feed in public areas.

SKINCARE brand Baby Dove has come under fire for its recent advertising campaign which appears to support those who oppose breastfeeding in public.

Coupled with this, an image of a baby breastfeeding under the heading “75% say breastfeeding in public is fine — 25% say put them away. What’s your way?” has caused outrage by its seeming divisive nature.

Some might argue it’s a matter of opinion, but breastfeeding in public is a legal right. And when it comes to legal entitlement, opinion is irrelevant. No one has the right to ask a woman to “put them away”.

Brand owner Unilever has responded by saying: “We believe there are many ways to be a great mum or dad and recognise that it’s ultimately what works for you and your baby that matters the most. Our campaign supports mums who breastfeed in public as well as those who choose not to, regardless of what other people say or think. We think there is no single right way when it comes to being a parent.”

I’m a breastfeeding mum who will happily breastfeed in public. I was saddened to see a campaign that serves only to undermine breastfeeding mothers. This sort of message has the potential to make a vulnerable mother feel even more so; perhaps prevent her from leaving the house in the belief that some might have the right to judge her if she needs to feed her hungry baby in public.

Breasts have become so sexualised that their actual intended function seems to have been forgotten. A baby attached to a nipple should remove any eroticism, one would think. I’ve never been subject to objections myself, but I have witnessed it happen to another woman.

It was at a christening. A lady in front of me was breastfeeding her young baby to the sound of two men tut-tutting about the disgracefulness of it all. I tackled the men in question who replied with weak reasoning that it was an “inappropriate place”. A reminder of breasts’ actual purpose and a highlighting of the fact it was not “merely for their pleasure” killed that particular argument.

The Dove ad that has caused outrage among the public

And I’m not alone in my thoughts. Mum of four Kellie Kearney formula-fed three of her children and is breastfeeding her fourth. She feels “very let down” by Dove’s campaign. She says it has “promoted their support of those who are against or dislike when mothers feed their children outside of home”. Kellie adds that she has been “witness on different occasions to women getting dirty looks and grunts from passers-by in the local shopping centre”. She says to this day “she regrets not sticking up for them”.

Mum of four Deborah McCarthy says “that the Dove campaign is infuriating, but not surprising. The anti-breastfeeding message is everywhere and widespread”. She adds that “over the last decade I’ve fed in every place imaginable and while I may have received a second glance a couple of times, I never had anything negative said. I’d encourage any breastfeeding mother to feed wherever suits them. Every breastfeeding mother nursing in public, does another little bit to normalise breastfeeding.”

Business owner and mum of two Sharyn Hayden, is not surprised that women are offended by the campaign. Having breastfed her own children she feels it’s essential that breastfeeding mothers are made to feel comfortable and supported when breastfeeding in public. Sharyn runs Skinny Batch delicatessen in Rush, Co Dublin. “Nobody would, (or should) bat an eyelid if someone was feeding their child at our deli and any negative behaviour surrounding it just wouldn’t be tolerated by our staff or other customers — I’m completely sure of that.”

But not everyone has been so fortunate. Tracey Holsgrove, a mother of one from Co Meath, is surprised at the Dove campaign, believing it to be “at the very least ill thought out and at worst it’s deliberately provocative”.

After a difficult start with breastfeeding, she found herself the subject of disapproving and angry looks from a man while she fed her daughter in a well-known restaurant chain. “My husband was always hugely supportive of me breastfeeding”, Tracey explains “and it was actually him who saw the man first.” He was ”of the opinion that the man would have been quite happy to ogle some young one with a tight fitting top but was disgusted to see a mum in her thirties doing what our breasts are actually designed for”.

The experience didn’t put Tracey off, instead making her “more determined to feed” her baby “whenever and wherever she needed”.

An upsetting experience with her first child, led to a change in direction for Lena Hulsmann. “I had realised that breastfeeding in public wasn’t as normal as it was in Germany. I chose to breastfeed my baby because it was what always had been done in my family.”

New to Ireland and with all her family and old friends in Germany, Lena stayed at home a lot as she adjusted to new motherhood. One “particular day I had enough of feeling isolated and lonely and decided to go for a stroll through Limerick City”. Lena says: “For me it was big deal, to go on my own without a friend or a fellow breastfeeding mom and I was really proud of myself.”

SHE stopped in a small café for a coffee and sat in a corner seat with her back to other people. Lena had never breastfed her daughter in public alone before. As she fed her baby, a male waiter came up to her and asked her to immediately stop “as other guests in the café could feel uncomfortable”.

Lena panicked and didn’t move. “A security guard came to us and asked me to leave too. In a panic I unlatched Klara and she started roaring.” She left the café “escorted by the security guard and the waiter. I was shaking and cried on the way home”. Lena says she never fed in public again, weaned her daughter earlier than planned, and moved to formula as she felt she had to.

Lena “hates” the Dove campaign. “It makes my blood boil and I think it will discourage many young mothers to breastfeed, especially those who have no support in their families or groups of friends.”

Lactation consultant Nicola O’Byrne, of breastfeedingsupport.ie, finds the campaign “incredulous” believing they got things “incredibly wrong”. “One of the major reasons Irish women don’t breastfeed is because of the fear of feeding in public. Pregnant parents and grandparents out there at the moment are hearing this and thinking it might not be socially acceptable to breastfeed in public. There’s also the new mothers at home who are in the early weeks of breastfeeding — this doesn’t help them either. It could be the final straw if things aren’t going well.”

“In Ireland the legislation covers breastfeeding mothers and babies to feed in public areas. If someone is harassing them about this, they can be prosecuted. New families are vulnerable. They don’t know their rights, but is it really about rights? It’s about supporting all mothers and babies no matter how they feed.”

If someone is making negative comments, says Nicola, “don’t react — smile and continue to feed your baby. We can be all gung-ho about how we’d react, but in the moment it’s hard to stay calm. If someone is being offensive, ask the management to remove them. If it’s the management complaining, ask for their name and if they are aware of the legislation.”

Believing that mothers supporting each other is extremely important, Nicola adds: “Remember it’s a marketer’s dream to have opposing sides. Pitting women against women helps nobody except sales.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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