Martek – Sponsoring Midwives to talk about Good Practise

25 05 2008

As I explain in a previous blog, I was shocked to discover that Martek, a company that harvests DHA from microbes found in soil bacteria, was sponsoring the upcoming International Confederation of Midwives conference in Glasgow next month. Martek are ‘silver sponsors’ at the event.

You might wonder why this is such a big deal? Who are Martek exactly?

Martek are the company that single-handedly supply all the DHA ‘ingredients’ to baby formula.
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Is this is big deal? Seriously?
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Yes, seriously, it is. It is serious on two main counts.

One, midwife organisations should be supporting breastfeeding, and taking money from a company that makes millions from selling its product to engineer formula to make it more like breastmilk is completely unethical. Not only does this directly undermine breastfeeding and breastmilk, it allows everyone to hike up their prices for formula as they have the ‘best’ ingredients. In fact, on the web page I’ve just linked to Martek straight out speak about this by stating:

“…as the market has shown, they are willing to pay a premium to provide the best nutrition for their children.”

This is the company sponsoring the conference. Sponsoring it, I might add, by money made from selling at a ‘premium’ to parents, worried about doing the best for their children. And knowingly, and openly, exploiting that in their approach to marketing and promotion. This is completely and utterly unacceptable. Taking money from parents at one end of the equation, and handing it out to gain credence and publicity at a midwives’ conference? Obscene. Utterly obscene.

But it gets worse. This point on its own is bad enough – engineering products to ‘fake’ breastmilk, selling it on at a high premium to worried parents… that’s one thing, but selling on a product with no proven efficiency, but with serious concerns on its effects on infants… that’s just totally off the scale.

And that’s what Martek does. It promotes its DHA/ARA supplements as being the same ingredients found naturally in breastmilk, and therefore aiding normal brain, nerve and eye growth in babies, exactly as breastmilk does. Ingredients traditionally absent from formula, and therefore one reason why formula fed infants do not achieve the same development in these areas than if they were breastfed. But the two products are not the same. The Martek product is a ‘novel’ product, made under laboratory conditions, and harvests long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids from bacteria, fungus and algae. There have been no independent clinical trials on the effects of this ‘novel’ product in the infant gut, or on how it might, or might not, be utilised by the infant.

But what study after study after study has found, is that there has been no increase in these functions in babies fed the ‘novel’ formula versus the old formula. There have been some suggestions of a benefit in pre-term babies, but breastmilk would simply be better for preemies anyway, and there is no understanding yet of appropriate doses and how some studies show no increase and others show some. But in the case of buying it off the shelf and feeding it to your baby as day to day food – the results are perfectly clear: it gives no added benefits in growth in these areas.

In other words: it doesn’t work. In the words of the researchers:

“Routine supplementation of milk formula with LCPUFA to improve the physical, neurodevelopmental or visual outcomes of infants born at term can not be recommended based on the current evidence.” Simmer et al PMID: 18253974

So much for the ‘premium’ that parents are paying for, huh?

It gets worse, of course. For whilst there is no evidence that adding these ‘novel’ oils to formula helps development, there is a growing body of data that suggests it causes problems for infants. Vomiting, gastric reflux, extreme constipation, extreme diarrhoea, all of the above, are symptoms being linked again and again to the use of formula containing the ‘novel’ oils. Babies are being hospitalised, taken off the ‘new’ formula, put on the old one, and symptoms disappear. In many cases, when the new formula is introduced again, the symptoms return.

Parents in the USA have been reporting these incidents to the Food and Drug Administration, in an attempt to get warning labels put onto the formula tins on the shelf. Well, we know how good formula companies are at appropriate labeling, don’t we? Here are some of the cases reported to the FDA:

Report #: 61307
“Her baby was fed this Enfamil Lipil formula for the first 3 weeks of his life and was constantly having gas and diarrhea from it, until he was taken off this formula by his pediatrician after the child was taken to the hospital ER by the parents, while having a severe bout of gas and diarrhea. Child was given regular Enfamil with Iron and has been on it ever since without any problems.”

Report #: 64191
“Healthy term newborn receiving formula supplementation – mother with history of breast reduction surgery – in hospital. Mother reported large amounts of emesis (vomiting) with Lipil, which resolved when switched to “original” Enfamil. Subsequently she was unable to obtain more “original” Enfamil – hospital supply not repleted by formula company. Baby again vomiting today with resumption of Lipil. Hospital staff in process of searching for formula without Formulaid [DHA and ARA] at present.”

Report #: 72285
“My son cannot tolerate the new infant formulas with DHA/ARA additives, Similac Advance, Enfamil Lipil, Goodstart with DHA/ARA – every time he has tried a DHA/ARA formula he gets extremely gassy, fussy and has terrible gas pains. He does do better on the Similac Advance, which has less DHA/ARA than the other products. I can’t find plain Similac in my local store, as they only carry the DHA/ARA formulas. Why did the FDA allow the formula companies to produce these formulas without long term testing???”

Why indeed. The same question can be asked in the UK…

For those of you who which to understand more about the issues on how these ‘novel’ oils are made, what effect they have on human babies, the legal battle now ensuing in the USA to have warning labels put on formula cans etc.. I cannot recommend the following report enough:

Replacing Mother—Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory, details research questioning the alleged benefits of adding “novel” omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, produced in laboratories and extracted from algae and fungus, into infant formulas. The report presents disturbing research indicating that the new additives placed in infant formula are seriously endangering the health of some formula-fed newborns and toddlers. Aggressive marketing campaigns by some infant formula manufacturers appear to have encouraged new mothers to give up nursing and switch to use of the questionable infant formula products.”

And it is definitely a report that those involved in brokering and accepting Martek money – parents’ money – for the midwives’ conference, should read.

On that, I really wish I could tell you some good news about the conference organisers. When I was informed that Martek was sponsoring the conference, I emailed the ICM direct, and asked if it was they, or the Royal College of Midwives who brokered the deal? The RCM are hosting the conference on behalf of the ICM, as it’s being held in the UK. A full working week later, I’ve not even had an acknowledgement of my request for information, never mind a response. With the conference opening on June 1st, I felt I had no option midweek but to them contact the RCM and ask them is they had brokered the sponsorship deal. No answer has been forthcoming from them either.

Now, the ICM email went to their ‘info’ eddress – so someone will have seen it. The RCM one went to a named person, and although I’d not had an “out of office” response, it’s conceivable that the message hasn’t been read as they could be away. So I will email their ‘info’ with the same request, tonight.

I also asked both organisations to let me know who monitors the The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes issues within their orgs. Given the issues of code breakers at the recent RCM organised event, this is a serious issue for both orgs. Will there be code breakers in the halls at Glasgow? Again, I’ve had no response at all, never mind on this separate point.

Which is a bit silly. For I alerted both organisations to the fact that some of the outraged responses I’d had after mentioning this in my blog, had been from some mothers wanting to organise a demo-protest outside the conference next week! You’d think that after alerting them to this, and asking for more info so we could understand the issues fully, and know where, why and how the sponsorship had come about… they’d jump at the chance to defuse the situation by responding quickly. After all, maybe they were unaware of Martek’s role in manufacturing formula components that made artificial ingredients “naturally found in breast milk”.

So, that’s the situation. That’s who will be sponsoring next week’s shindig. And midwives from all over the world, will be in attendance. I hope someone speaks up at the conference, and asks for an explanation of all this. I’ve had quite a few furious midwives in touch, and I’m sure some of the ire will last past the acceptance speech and the ‘well done’ clappy clap claps.

I will keep trying to get through to both ICM and RCM, and will let you know if I get a response. If you want to try yourself, and let them know it’s not just me annoyed about this – you can contact ICM here, and RCM here.

Depressing that we have to do this, with the very people that we trust most to keep our babies safe.

*sigh*





Shame on you Carlton Cards! (Well done Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s!)

16 05 2008

This card was in my eyeline as I walked out of Sainsbury’s. Someone had dumped it up front after having picked it up from a back layer. I could see why they’d put it down! I couldn’t quite believe how far we’d sunk in our culture, that protests are made when breasts feed babies… but card companies can make money on crude images such as this. And in a supermarket!

The really good news is… Sainbury’s were shocked too, and the manager I spoke to at Sainsbury’s Bedford, took them all off the shelf without me having to say one word. He just asked what I was complaining about, I opened the card, and his first words were “I do apologise, are there more on the shelf?” When I pointed to them, he lifted them off there and then. I suggested he phone head office to phone round the other stores.
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So if you have a moment, please contact Sainsbury’s and congratulate them for this prompt response. A ‘thank you’ for a job well done, is worth more than a thousand complaints. I know it’s easier to write, phone or email an outraged complaint… but, if we find good people doing good things, we need to empower them to do more good things. As I said, I didn’t have to say one word – the cards were off the shelf within seconds of him seeing one.

As he was apologising for them, I did say I didn’t expect him to know every card in the store, and he said that wasn’t the point. The point was that the card agent should know better, and they should never have been brought into the store. Good Point!

So who made them? Well, this jolly exploration of what the ‘perfect’ plastic surgery for breasts would look like, is from Carlton Cards. It’s stock number is 146841 – – – 2. All copyright for the images here reserved by them.

And the back of the card, in small print, contains a warning…. that the card is not suitable for those under 3 years of age.

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Why is it not suitable?
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Because the “Birthday Boy” badge attached to the front, has a sharp, pointy, edge.
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If you’re in a supermarket, any supermarket, this weekend, and you spot one, do bring it to the manager’s attention! 🙂

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Carlton Cards, Mill Street East, Dewsbury, WF12 9AW
01928 465200 fax 01928 453908
the UK subsidury of Carlton Cards (USA)
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Carlton Cards… demeaning women and breastfeeding if it gets us a cheap laugh (and your money)…

EDIT: June 4th

As you can see from the comments, the card turned up at Tesco too. Their response was just as fast, and the card was removed within an hour of my speaking to a manager. Thank you Tesco!!!

EDIT: June 5th

Received a phone call from Sainsbury’s HQ confirming that the card had since been removed from every single store and the matter taken up with the manufacturer. Apologies for offence caused. 🙂





Juggling Ownership

12 05 2008

It’s National Breastfeeding Week in the UK, and the usual feeling of hopeful anticipation, a thin layer of hope over a large puddle of dread, has been firmly squashed by despair. The puddle of dread is the normal reaction to Just How Wrong we’ve got this in the past.
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Traditionally, just saying ‘celebrate breastfeeding’ has opened up an onslaught of argument and abuse. How dare you make women feel bad about formula feeding! Huh? We were talking about breastfeeding, how did we get there in two nano seconds….? So you always start the run up to this week with heavy duty armoured underwear on, and a neutral but not disapproving expression on your face.
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There’s always hopeful anticipation… maybe this year it will be different… maybe this year something will be achieved… ! Maybe the truth can come out… babies are born to breastfeed. You wouldn’t think such a simple statement could cause so much aggro.
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But this year… all hopeful anticipation is gone. The horror is upon us. And boy, it could not be more of a nightmare…

I came across this image from the Independent on Sunday, at the end of last month. I was on holiday, in a blissful state of relaxation, when my husband pushed it under my nose. My relaxation vanished and blood pressure started to rise. Oh no! No one could be that naive, could they? I read the article, hoping it wasn’t as bad as what I was seeing, and it was worse:
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“The key thing about these pictures is that they acknowledge that although breasts are sexual, they have another purpose besides.”
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And there it was, in black and white, the huge problem with these images, laid out clearly by the people who made them: that breasts have another purpose besides sexual gratification.
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What’s wrong with that, you might say, isn’t that true? What’s so wrong with the image? Well, a few things to say.
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Breasts are not primarily sexual objects. Feeding a baby is not a secondary function. Feeding the baby, is the primary role of the mammalian breast. That some cultures chose to hyper-fetishise the female breast into a sexual object – well that’s their cultural choice. Yes, breasts have erectile tissue. Yes, they can be very enjoyable objects during sexual play. So can the back of your neck! (One of the they most erogenous and sexually attractive areas of the female body in Japanese culture.)
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There are huge problems for breastfeeding in identifying breasts as primarily sexual – for making statements that they are for other purposes besides sexual activity. Massive problems, problems which are highlighted by the very iconography in the posters.
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To begin with, we’ve battled for years with the pernicious stereotype that your breasts ‘belong’ to your man. As the article rightly states, attitudes to breastfeeding from your partners and family, can have a huge impact on breastfeeding rates. The myth that breastfeeding will get in the way of the sexual pleasure of your partner, is one that prevents many women from breastfeeding. So I applaud them trying to attack that myth. What is truly terrible however, is that in attempting to do so, they uphold the concept that your breasts are the property of your man. They’ve not challenged the stereotype, they’ve built into the message that in the paradigm where breasts are sexual and the property of your man… there is room for the baby too.
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True, they have tried to ‘soften’ the impact of the male ownership of that breast for sexual pleasure, by putting the woman’s hand in there too. She’s giving her consent for him to own her breast… but she’s not giving the baby consent, is she? So keen were they to mediate his hand by hers, that they’ve left that poor baby’s hand over there all by itself, a true interloper in the affair. The baby is left to grasp and grope on it’s own, no loving touch by the mother inviting it in. But the last person who owns these breasts is… the woman herself. She’s left to juggle ownership of them between ‘her man’ and ‘her baby’.
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I say woman, for this image is not that of a mother. There are no stretch marks on that perfectly taught and smooth post-partum flesh. This is the domain of the model, touched up and made perfect by both the editing package, and the eye of the camera upon her. She’s a model – posing her body for sexual gratification, with her perfect, sexy and glowing cleavage on display.

A cleavage that has had every trick in the photographer’s book played upon it. Veins have been airbrushed out, cleavage shadowed and deepened, her skin texture evened out by make up and photoshop. She is the epitome of the glamour model.

Oh yes, that’s so how you speak to young women! That’s how you breakdown stereotypes about female bodies and woman’s control of them. You take a model figure and make her as glamorous and sexy as any randy young male would desire, and do an extreme close up of her glistening breasts.
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And you stick a baby’s hand on that breast.
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And then you cut her head off.
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These images are soul-less when it comes to being female, or being a mother. They are mimicking soft core pornography, with the graphic over-emphasis on the female body as sexual object. The very act of zooming onto close up on cleavage, and only showing the cleavage is demeaning to women. You are reducing her to being a breast: a sexual breast first and foremost, but one that can also accommodate feeding a baby. So that’s all right then – it’s not exploitation of the female figure because there is a baby attached.
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The fact that this has been done in the name of breastfeeding is just mind-boggling. The fact that serious minded supporters of breastfeeding could sit in a room and come up with this as a way to support breastfeeding “Hey guys… let’s take the sexual stereotype that men won’t be interested in partners who breastfeed by showing the female body stylised for sexual gratification but with a baby attached!” is just simply beyond understanding, isn’t it?
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Well, it’s not actually. It’s really understandable if you pay attention to one thing about these posters. They were made by students. Students under a brief to speak to their own age group. Students at an art school. And therein is revealed the problem with both arts education, and exam testing of the arts, in the UK at the moment. I’m actually a qualified arts teacher, and have taught Film in schools, under the auspices of the photographic teachers in the Art departments.
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So I can make a really good educated guess on exactly how these posters won the competition for the ‘best’ breastfeeding posters. They won them because all the talking about the posters, hit all the right boxes on the brief. All the complex explanation of why these posters filled the brief, on what the intent was in making them: speaking to the males, making breastfeeding glamorous, not reducing a woman’s sexuality by her being a breastfeeding mother… it all sounds wonderful. In terms of talking your art into a really good grade, this work is superb. Read the article to see the women in charge of the project speak it all out for you. The exam board are going to give this project A+++.
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The problem is, and this is a huge problem in marking for Arts subjects… no one then stood back and looked at the finished artifact as a separate whole. Sweep away the words and the intent, and actually study the artifact as an individual piece of art. Look at its effect, not its intent.
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Look at its effect and execution severed from its explanation.
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When you do that, a totally different reading of the work emerges. One that is not in the slightest supportive of raising breastfeeding rates, and may indeed be responsible for lowering them.
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That’s a huge statement to make, I know. That I’m worried that these posters will actually impact negatively on breastfeeding rates. Surely any publicity, good or bad, is good, right? Surely getting the message out, will always help?
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I’m not so sure.
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And I’m not so sure because apart from the cack-handed way these images go about presenting their message… they actually also undercut much of the work that needs to be done in order to raise breastfeeding rates. Their message is counter productive to raising rates.
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Messages, I should actually say, for these images and words shoot themselves in the foot on two main counts. One, it’s very much old fashioned ‘breast is best’ territory, which has been shown not to work. In a truly ironic touch, they even use the designer clothing concept that Dr Karleen Gribble highlighted as being such a negative message, just recently. Do you wear shop bought or designer? Is shop bought ‘good enough’ for you? Well then, so will formula be – for if breastmilk is designer, formula is shop bought, and what’s wrong with that? I bet you’re wearing shop bought as you read this! No normal woman can afford designer ‘best’ every day.
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So, again, the impact of constructed message hasn’t been very well thought out. We can see what they intended the effect to be, but that’s not what has actually happened. An understandable mistake for art students, but not one, perhaps, for the contributing agencies and authorities who paid for all this, and who are presumably going to be putting these posters on bus shelters and in maternity units. They should, quite simply, know better.
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But that’s not really a huge problem… for plenty of breastfeeding promotion is still making this basic mistake. The real problem, as I signaled above, is that these posters highlight breasts as sexual first and feeders of baby second. And that’s a death knell for breastfeeding in public.
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I bet every objection you’ve ever heard to a woman breastfeeding her baby in front of anyone else – be it Granda in the front room, or schoolkids in the shopping centre – centres upon the argument that breasts are sexual, and sexual body parts should not be seen in public? That a woman should not inflict her private parts upon an unwitting spectator. That the inherently sexual nature of the breast negates feeding the baby in front of others in the name of public decency. That breastfeeding is only acceptable if it’s discreet.
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Two problems there, of course. Discreet is a meaningless word. What’s one person’s discreet is another’s fandango up the market in knickers and ostrich feathers. The word discreet automatically gives the power and control to the onlooker, and they decide on a second by second basis what is, or isn’t discreet. Your discreet is their shameless hussy. The other problem, far more pertinent, is that as babies get older, their neck muscles develop and they can’t read yet – so they don’t know what discreet means either. So they whip on and off and have a good look around at the world. And in a world where the breast is primarily sexual – well, she’s flashing her breasts around, isn’t she officer? I saw her nipple, and that’s not right. Ask her to move on or arrest her for something. I know my rights…
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Such actions as the baby having the temerity to move its head during a feed, are totally unacceptable if you believe breasts are first and foremost sexual. The “Get Out of Sexual Context” card that a small baby is sometimes accorded to allow it to feed, is shredded when the baby gets a bit older, and a bit bigger and moves around. The sufferance that has been extended by onlookers to the act of breastfeeding, is then dropped. You can breastfeed your baby discreetly, preferably under the a blanket, and I’ll look the other way. But let me see one cm of actual breast and you’re on your way, babes, as those breasts are sexual first and foremost.
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These posters highlight and underline this concept. They are overtly reaching out to the audience to thrust the sexual dominance of the breast, down the throats of the men looking at them, to use them as a honey trap to persuade them to let their women feed their babies. They are agreeing with, and upholding, the myth that breasts are primarily sexual. The makers are proudly quoting this as their intent. They feel that by ‘admitting’ this, women will be encouraged by their partners to also allow the baby to breastfeed.
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But they won’t be breastfeeding in the park, will they? Or down the shopping centre? Not with these images of their Sexual First and Baby Second breasts looming down on them. What men are going to want their breasts out there in public, with the baby hanging off them? How much more ammunition could we give those demanding breastfeeding take place under a blanket?
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On this point, I am truly speechless. All I can say to the makers of these posters, and the two poor students who ‘won’ the competition and who are so proud of their achievements… go contact Little Angels/Be A Star. Find out how to take the same brief and hand it over to the women it’s aimed at. See how you can tick the boxes and make the posters have the same effect as the intent. Find out from them how you can glorify the body of the mother, without exploiting it. Find out that if you want to speak to young mothers and their partners… ask young mothers to come up with the campaign.
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And one final tip.
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When trying to empower women to take control of their own body?
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Don’t cut their heads off.
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– – – – – – – –
Addendum: Code Comes First
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This was, as I state clearly, a response to the article in an April edition of the Independent on Sunday. Whilst I did want my thoughts and views on the posters to come across, I was quite uncomfortable with actually highlighting the makers of the posters, and of being too critical of them. We’re all trying to get to the same place, and sometimes we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot. That doesn’t mean it’s not accepted that you’ve worked hard and are totally supportive of breastfeeding, and of supporting breastfeeding Mums. So I was very careful to completely side step names etc, as those who wanted to could always read the article for more details.
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However, completely coincidentally, I received a phone call last night from a close friend. She’d been invited, at a moment’s notice, to attend a support breastfeeding launch in London yesterday, Monday 13th. They needed mothers and babies for a photoshoot, would she come? In her own words…
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“Hi, my name is Emily a nursing mother of a 16 month old toddler. I am passionate about the rights of nursing mothers worldwide, but especially in the UK as it’s where I live. In May 2007 I organised a breastfeeding picnic in front of the Houses of Parliament on Parliament Square, to raise awareness of the lack of legislation to protect nursing mothers in public.
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We had a good attendance (about 60 parents and children) but our cause was largely ignored by those in power.
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I am of course aware of the Breastfeeding Manifesto and their aims, and am on their mailing list. Last night I received an urgent email asking if any nursing mothers who lived in and around London could come to Westminster Abbey for a photocall to promote the new CD-Rom which will be going round to every pregnant woman.
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So I booked the day off work (at very short notice), dragged my son and myself up to London on the boiling hot Tube, and arrived at the Church Conference Centre in plenty of time.”

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Something to highlight at this point. Emily states she was contacted by the Breastfeeding Manifesto, which is chaired by Alison Baum. But as you’ll see from the article, the project for these posters was done by Best Beginnings. A charity set up by… Alison Baum. All I have to go on with this is Emily saying who contacted her… but I’m worried that a contact list for one organisation, is being used by another, with a common cause and a common agenda. Worried not least because I’ve signed the Breastfeeding Manifesto. Hopefully this small point can be clarified – maybe the Breastfeeding Manifesto was indeed running this event? But they invited Best Beginnings? Perhaps it will be made clearer in today’s newspapers…
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Back to Emily…
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“There were about 20 other nursing mothers there, with infants ranging in age from 5 weeks to 2.5 years, so the chaos which then ensued with photographers from the Times, Telegraph and Daily Express trying to get a good photo of us all breastfeeding at the same time…well, you can imagine, I’m sure. They tried to put the posters from the National Breastfeeding Awareness Week either side, but we all said no to that as we all agreed they were awful! After the group photos, the photographers moved in to get some individual shots of the more photogenic mothers and infants. I was told later that the photographer from the Express asked a mother to “show more flesh” and actually moved his hand to pull her top down! I didn’t actually witness this, but when I was doing a shot with another mother, we were told to “Show as much flesh as possible” and to get closer, so our babies’ heads were touching. This is a mother I had never met before (although – to be completely fair – the photographer may not have been aware of that)!”
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You can imagine my disquiet on hearing that mothers were being extolled to show more breast for the cameras, especially given the problems with the posters! (Interesting that the mothers didn’t want to be photographed with them). And let me be really clear about this – I’m not upset that the photographers were acting like this. That’s to be expected (I am upset that this is to be expected). But I was a bit shocked that these mothers had been invited up like this, at a moment’s notice, and then left to the tender mercies of the press without support. In fact, I was furious that Emily had had to stand there and fend off the demands for her to show more flesh as she breastfed! Where were the organisers?
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“After the photos were done, we trooped upstairs to have a look at the Make Breastfeeding Normal exhibition. In the first conference hall, there were about 7 stands, including The Royal Colleges of Midwives and Nursing (separately), Medela and Avent. I made a beeline for the Avent stall and, knowing them to be code-breakers and feeling my blood pressure rising I asked the lady who was on the stall, “What are Avent doing here? Don’t you break the International Code of Marketing for Formula?” She said, “We don’t, Avent promotes breastfeeding.” I said, “No you don’t. You promote the sale of your product, like all multinational corporations.” She said, “No we don’t.” I said, “Yes, you do.” She said, “Avent promotes breastfeeding for new mothers.” At that point I walked away as a) I felt like screaming at her and b) my son (who was in my arms as we were not allowed to take buggies upstairs) was getting decidedly wriggly. I didn’t bother to look at the rest of the exhibition.”
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Ah, that’s where they were – with the exhibitors. Exhibitors who have been allowed into a support breastfeeding exhibition.. even though they break code? How fascinating that Avent were able to stand there so adamantly and state they didn’t break code? Is IBFAN wrong then?
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Now, this is shocking, totally shocking. A nationally sponsored event to promote breastfeeding, and stalls are being openly run by companies who are breaking code? Could someone explain this to me? How can any organiser/s have so much contempt for the efforts of the breastfeeding support community?
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“At one end of the room a delicious lunch – poached salmon, steamed green beans, delicately cooked new potatoes, Hollandaise sauce, chilled mineral water – was laid out. I wandered up to it, along with another mother who had been on the photocall with me and took a plate. The staff who was there serving said, “I’m sorry – this is for people who are with the conference only.” I said, “We are with the conference – we’ve just been doing the photos, downstairs.” He said, “I know, your lunch is downstairs.”
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We duly plodded our way downstairs to be greeted with one plate of sandwiches and a small bowl of fruit. And nothing to drink. I asked one of the conference centre staff if we could please have some water and she said, “No – you have to go down to the toilets, there’s drinking water in there.”
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How could a conference centre which was putting on an exhibition for and about nursing mothers not have water on demand for people who were participating? Especially in the baking heat!? And to tell a nursing mother to go down to the toilets – well, it’s like a red rag to a bull, really”
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How indeed Emily? How could organisers call in breastfeeding mothers, leave them to the hands of the press as they mingled with code violators, and then dispatch you to the toilets for tap water?
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“When we had eaten our meagre lunch, I decided to let Zac have a little run around on the grass directly opposite the conference centre, Dean’s Yard, before we began the long, hot Tube journey home. He had been in his buggy for a long time and I felt it was only fair. I carried the buggy down the flight of steps outside the centre (I mean – who holds a conference about nursing mothers without making sure there’s adequate buggy access?) and let him out on the grass. He immediately ran off, ecstatic, and I followed behind with the buggy.
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From behind me I heard, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” I turned around and one of the organisers was behind me. “I’m sorry – but this area is private property – it belongs to the school, so you can’t be on here.”
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I managed to strap my wailing child back into the buggy and began the journey home. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.”

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I’ll bet it was!
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Now, let me be totally upfront about this. About why I’ve appended Emily’s account of her day supporting National Breastfeeding Week. About why I’ve highlighted the organisations that appear to have been behind it, and their role in the posters; it’s to say one thing:
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You better start to do better than this.
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You simply can’t run events to support breastfeeding, but have stands and stalls run by code breakers. You can’t invite mothers and their children and not support them. You have to take care of them, nurture them, give them space for the children to play and feel safe and make sure they feel treasured. You have to talk to, listen to, and attend to, the mothers who are actually doing the breastfeeding. Again, get in touch with Little Angels if this is gobbledygook to you.
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Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting you all, many and various, involved in this launch, aren’t working your butt off to promote breastfeeding. I’m not taking lightly the work and committment that went into organising yesterday’s event. I’m not even suggesting you’re all not trying your best. I’m not even blaming you for these hideous posters: people are allowed to make mistakes. We can forgive getting it wrong. We can forgive being so over worked you missed the points about taking care of the mothers and babies. We can forgive that you spent so much time and effort and energy in asking art students how to promote breastfeeding, rather than asking young Mums. It was probably a really good idea at the time.
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What we cannot forgive, forget or overlook, is working with companies that break code. No wonder code is so ignored when code breakers can turn up and market their wares at events such as this. And then sit down to a lovely cosy lunch with everyone! And I bet they all told you what a fab job you were doing, and what a great event it was?
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You don’t promote breastfeeding by getting into bed with code breakers.
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Unacceptable. Completely. Utterly. Totally.
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As is sending breastfeeding Mums into the toilets for tap water.





So, that’s how the UK help with breastfeeding in Yarl’s Wood…

12 05 2008

… by deporting the mother and baby as fast as possible.

Apologies for the lag in posting a follow up on Glory and Tracy – I’ve been away.

I saw her at Yarl’s Wood on the Wednesday, with another Mum along for support. The visit was called short by Yarl’s Wood, as a guard came along to say she had to go to the Health Centre at 5. We all hoped this meant that finally, some lactation support was going to happen! I then couldn’t get hold of her on her mobile, until finally getting through well after 9pm. She’d been called into the Health Centre to tell her that she and Tracy were being put on a plane first thing in the morning. She’d not been allowed back to her room as they were ‘packing it for her’.

But, I hear you say, that can’t happen, as detainees are to be given a minimum of 48 hours notice before being removed. And so therefore it is impossible that Glory was told at 5pm in the evening that she’d be flown out the next morning.

It’s also impossible that she was not allowed to go back to her room to pack, and get her mobile phone, for several hours. And that when a top London legal firm phoned through, desperate to allow her to legally appoint them to her case… that Yarl’s Wood staff couldn’t track her down.

So she wasn’t really thrown on a plane with a 12 week old baby, and flown out of the country without one moment of lactation support given to her. I’m sure that sequence of events will turn out to be some horrendous mistake, and/or the Government will duly apologise for what clearly could not have happened.

Honest.

The good news is, that Glory was sent to Finland. A country that still sees women and babies seeking asylum as human beings with rights to proper support and protection. She’s settled in the community, and trying to overcome the trauma of what happened to her in the UK, and at Yarl’s Wood.

Unfortunately, she’s still having problems breastfeeding. Things got better after I visited in Yarl’s Wood and gave her handouts and information, so it’s better, but she’s in pain and Tracy is still unsettled. Glory says she understands now, after reading the handouts, that Tracy is trying to breastfeed as if her nipple is a bottle teat. A Finnish breastfeeding peer supporter is trying to arrange to see her in the next few days, and Glory does have access to proper medical support in Finland, so I’m hoping to report all is well there.

It does say something, however, that the best way to get a baby and mother proper lactation support in the asylum system in the UK is to… send them to a civilised country to sort it out.

Now, why is Glory in Finland? You might well ask.

Glory is in Finland as that is where she claimed asylum. And was happy to claim asylum from.

So why was she in the UK? Why was she detained in Yarl’s Wood?

Because when she was pregnant, she flew to the UK to sort some things out for the baby. Whilst here, UK immigration lifted her and put her in Yarl’s Wood and didn’t release her until it was too late to return to Finland for the birth. Then they lifted her again, prior to flying her back to Finland and when her baby was taken from her at Yarl’s Wood she was stuck here until it was sorted.

Although she wanted to go back to Finland, she was fighting them on that as she needed out of Yarl’s Wood to sort out the stuff for the baby.

Sound a bit suspect? Can’t quite get your head around that? Me too. Really didn’t make sense to me. After all, sorting stuff out for a new baby… well yes, I can see that. But needing to fly in to the UK from safe refuge in Finland, and then insist you get out of Yarl’s Wood for a few days before they send you back… well, that’s a bit barmy, isn’t it?

Until you find out what she needed to sort out, that is.

Until you find out that what Glory desperately needed to sort out, was that if she and the baby were deported back to Cameroon, from Finland, baby Tracy would be subjected to Female Genital Mutilation by Glory’s family. As punishment for being born out of marriage.

That Glory knew this, and was desperately trying to arrange for a ceremony to take place, that must take place within 3 months of birth, to protect her baby from being mutilated. That this was what she was trying to sort out for her newborn daughter – protection from being mutilated as soon as they returned to Cameroon.

Glory’s own mother, Tracy’s grandmother, was already being harassed in Cameroon by the family, and being threatened with being thrown out of her house as she was a bad mother for allowing her daughter – who was legally in Finland as a student – to become pregnant and give birth. Glory was trying to get info and support via the Cameroon community in London, in making sure the permissions and articles needed for the ceremony was approved by her family in Cameroon.

Glory was terrified, is terrified, that her precious baby will be held down on a table and have her genitals mutilated in order to cleanse the family of the shame of an illegitimate birth.

And Yarl’s Wood knew this. Glory said she not only told them repeatedly, but that they went off and found out the cultural circumstances she was describing were genuine.

Under UK guidelines, any health care professional who discovers that any child in the UK is under threat of Female Genital Mutilation, has a duty to report such to child protection. There is a separate unit dedicated to this with the Metropolitan Police – Project Azure. I’m now in contact with some support groups on FGM, and am hoping to get some contacts to discuss Tracy’s case with the police, later this week.

As I understand it, under the rules, Yarl’s Wood should have informed appropriate authorities of the threat to Tracy, and in absence of any info from Yarl’s Wood itself, I’m approaching the police first for help and clarification. (Yarl’s Wood haven’t even acknowledged receipt of my letter to them about lactation support for Tracy, and it’s been nearly 4 weeks since I handed it in personally).

It will be a sad day indeed, if I discover that along with the other human rights the UK ‘suspends’ for children of asylum seekers, this procedure of protection against FGM is not applied…

Whilst I’ve known about FGM, I’ve not really had anything to do with it. Since finding out from Glory this was what her main concern was, and that the ceremony she needed to have done was being delayed by her stay in Yarl’s Wood, and Tracy’s removal by social services for 4 weeks was actually contributing to the likelihood that Tracy would be mutilated when they were returned to Cameroon… I’ve found out a bit more. Mostly, I’ve found out that women stay silent on this issue, and that Glory is an amazing and wonderful mother for standing up and screaming from the roof tops that she does not want this done to her baby daughter.

I sat in Yarl’s Wood and saw the look on Glory’s face, as she held Tracy in her arms, and spoke about how she feels about Tracy being mutilated. It’s not a look I ever want to see on any other woman’s face. Ever.

And you never want to see the look on my face now, as I type this.

So this is where we are with supporting Tracy. Hopefully, we can get the breastfeeding problems ignored by Yarl’s Wood sorted out in Finland. Glory has a new asylum case lodged in Finland, on the threat of FGM to Tracy. We may also be able to sort out this ceremony, which will stop the intimidation of Glory’s mother in Cameroon, but that’s a long shot at this point.

I’ll keep you updated. It may be a long gap on this one, as this is such a complex case.

More details on how to support children facing FGM can be found here.