We like to think mums are pretty dumb, don’t we?
Well, you might not. I don’t. But there’s a paternalism out there that assumes mums are idiots and can’t be trusted to make good decisions for their children.
I see it often. In the media releases and PR pitches that flood my inbox. The car companies who think mothers need to be reminded to keep their children safe around vehicles, as if that wasn’t constantly uppermost in mind. The toy companies that encourage mothers to put their child’s development first as if we weren’t regularly checking they were hitting their milestones.
And, unhappily, I see it the way we regulate infant formula marketing.
In Australia, because we’re a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes, the way infant formula is presented to the market is carefully controlled.
The Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula Agreement prohibits formula companies from advertising products for babies under the age of 12 months. Formula companies are not allowed to make claims about or discuss the benefits of their formula products. Formula companies must include information about the supposed superiority of breastfeeding, and the apparent risks and costs inherent to feeding a baby formula.
But the thing is, the WHO code and the MAIF Agreement start from a position that mothers are idiots.
The Code and the Agreement are anti-feminist, and here’s why.
They assume that women are not intelligent enough to critically analyse and interpret advertising and marketing material.
They’re predicated on the idea that breast is best, and that’s just not the case. Not in every situation and not for every woman.
They prevent women who need to understand the pros and cons of different infant formula products from easily accessing information that would help.
And they entrench the stereotype that a good mother breastfeeds and a bad mother does not.
The first time my baby had formula devastated me.
It’s a moment I’m likely never to forget.
I was sitting in a chair next to a hospital bed, three and a half days after a caesarean section. I was tired, hormonal and sick with fear.
My baby was a pale shade of yellow, a symptom of the jaundice that was threatening to encompass his tiny body. He hadn’t had a thing to drink since he was born.