Saturday, November 6, 2010

Selling Breastfeeding as "normal"

Breastfeeding advocacy has changed its strategy. Instead of describing breastfeeding as "best," "free," and listing "benefits," we are now told that breastfeeding is to be described as just normal. There are numerous problems with this strategy in promoting breastfeeding to the public. Normalcy is defined in communities by the majority. Does the majority in US communities perceive breastfeeding as normal? Despite many women attempting to breastfeed, initiation rates climbing to 70-80% in the last few years, continuation rates drop drastically by 3 months. I see relatively few women breastfeeding in public. We hear constant media stories of women harassed for nursing in public areas, despite laws to protect breastfeeding.

Yes, breastfeeding is the biological norm but it is not the cultural norm in the US. We may wish it to be a cultural norm, but just saying it does not make it so. In fact the reactions to statements like this may cause more harm than good. Is it formula feeding that is abnormal? Or is it our society that is abnormal? When the public hears the statement breastfeeding is normal, how do they perceive that statement? Do they wonder about the reality behind that statement?

If we read about words that sell a product or a concept, would we use "normal?" Reading on the web about words that sell, I do not see "normal." I do see the word, "free." But breastfeeding advocates have been told not to use the word, "free," because it implies cheap. Yet in all the marketing websites I looked at, free was one of the words that sells(one website states that it is the top selling words of all time). Benefits was another selling word. Yet again we told not to talk about benefits of breastfeeding. Instead I have read articles by breastfeeding advocates that state that there are no "benefits" to breastfeeding because breastfeeding is just normal.
Yet marketing pros, use the word benefits. Why bother breastfeeding, if there are no benefits?

Are those who write about effective marketing wrong? Will describing breastfeeding as normal promote breastfeeding? Already the infant formula industry in Australia and New Zealand has embraced the words, breastfeeding is normal. Why? One would suspect that they like "breastfeeding is normal," because it sells more infant formula.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain


  1. I'm interested to hear this as I live in NZ and work as a safe infant feeding and breastfeeding advocate, educator and I'm an associate of IBFAN and a midwife/IBCLC. Can you tell me where you have spotted the evidence for the statement " ... the infant formula industry in Australia and New Zealand has embraced the words, breastfeeding is normal". I'm keen to follow this up. Many thanks.

  2. See:

    right hand side (middle)