A Unicef campaign promoting breastfeeding to produce smarter, healthier, wealthier kids has caused consternation in France, where women took to social networks and the broadcast media in protest against repeated “guilt” being laid on moms of bottle-fed infants.
“My boobs, MY opinion,” retorted the @MereFeministe — a French Feminist Mother — Twitter account, after the U.N. agency declared that “Breastfeeding boosts a child’s health, its IQ, educational performance and adult earnings.”
The push during World Breastfeeding Week to encourage mothers to reject formula milk — featuring a nursing mother with her baby at the breast and a male partner embracing her from behind with the headline “Breastfeeding is not just a woman’s affair” — was mostly met without controversy elsewhere, but greeted with criticism in France, where mothers have traditionally bucked social pressures demanding maternal perfection.
UNICEF Paris was obliged to issue an official defense on French radio and online after leading feminists, including French Women’s Minister Laurence Rossignol, appeared to side with local women fed up with hyperbolic suggestions breastfed babies far outstrip those who are not given their mom’s milk when it comes to health indicators, intelligence, school results and even wealth.
The director of Women’s Lobby Osez le feminisme, Raphaelle Remy-Leleu said, “What shocks us in this campaign is the element of culpability which is very stigmatizing for women who choose not to breastfeed.”
Sarcasm and satire were employed by some women outraged at what they saw as Unicef’s exaggerated claims for breastfeeding’s purported miracle effects on babies and toddlers.
“Breastfeeding also reduces the hole in the ozone layer, stops tsunamis and results in lower taxes,” Tweeted a feminist account @SandG, apparently named in honor of 19th century writer and women’s rights champion George Sand. Another mother said, “According to @UNICEF_FR because of me my kid will have the IQ of an oyster, will not study, and end up sick and poor. OK.”
Juliette Chevalier, the communications director of Unicef France told France Info, “It is not a question of imposing on mothers what they must do… breastfeeding, or not, remains a free choice for all women.”
According to the U.N. agency spokeswoman, the media blitz spruiking the upsides to breastfeeding was sparked by “campaigns to sell the benefits of formula milk … which are gaining ground.” However Unicef would not resile from its blanket targeting of all mothers, regardless of whether they lived in developing countries where clean water and decent healthcare were difficult to come by.
The latest Unicef promotion of breastfeeding drew on a controversial meta-study published earlier this year in the Lancet, which had already attracted the ire of bottle-feeding mothers in France, tired with what they viewed as propaganda aimed at making moms who didn’t breastfeed feel like bad mothers.