Thursday, September 28, 2006

Breast envy?

A few years ago I saw an interview with Mel Brooks, the comedian and film maker. He was talking about his film 'I was a teenage Frankenstein' which stars Gene Wilder as the mad scientist who creates a monster and somewhere along the line ends up singing Putting on the Ritz and doing a tap dance routine with his creation.

In explaining the logic of the tale, Brooks commented that Frankenstein was suffering a classic case of womb envy. Perhaps this is written about in academic circles, but the nature of these blogs is to be a quick ramble at the end of the day so I am not searching for references - Mel Brooks will have to do. Womb envy, he explained, is a sense of inadequacy experienced by a man because he cannot give birth. Sewing together bits of corpses and zapping them with electricity to give them life was the way Dr. Frankenstein overcame this feeling of inadequacy.

This came to my mind as I needed to put together information on the Gerber baby food company yesterday. We have information on file and available through the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) - sometimes we simply ask partners around the world to pop down to the local market or clinic to see what is going on if we want an update.

We can also look at company websites. And there Gerber makes a big thing of men bottle feeding. With a bottle men can bond with the baby by feeding expressed breastmilk or formula, says Gerber. Well, yes, but there are plenty of other ways for men to bond with their children without reaching for a surrogate breast. And so Dr. Frankensteins womb envy came to mind.

You can see Gerber's approach in the September Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet, posted to our website last night. Gerber suggests its bottles and teats - which it claims mimic a mother's nipple - make it easy to switch between breastfeeding and bottle feeding.

Not true. If formula is introduced a mothers milk production is reduced so bottle use is increased.

Also the act of sucking on a bottle is different from suckling at the breast, which is why experts recommend cups be used for giving expressed milk. Some mothers prefer bottles, of course. Fine if they know the effect using a bottle may have on continuing to breastfeed. The World Health Assembly marketing requirements actually require that information materials explain the negative impact on breastfeeding of introducing partial bottle-feeding (Article 4.2).

Now Gerber shouldn't be advertising bottles in the first place - that is prohibited by the marketing requirements. But take a look at the example we expose on our website, taken from a magazine in Singapore. It says nothing of the impact of introducing bottles and, though it refers to the importance of breastfeeding has the slogan 'Shouldn't your baby be a Gerber baby?'

The baby's blue eye are fixed on the hunk providing the feed. The man may not be suffering from breast envy, but Gerber's message is clear: get in on the act, get yourself a bottle.

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