Mexico City recently launched a breastfeeding campaign meant to encourage women to nurse their new-born children, but instead it has drawn ire from health advocates because of the underlying message it appears to relay. The eye-catching ads feature a host of topless celebrities staring seductively at the camera and carrying strategically placed banners with a message written in Spanish that says, “No les des la espalda, dale pecho.” In English, the slogan asks new mothers not to turn their backs to the children and instead breastfeed them. Some of the celebrities lending their name to the ad campaign include well-known actresses Camila Sodi and Maribel Guardia, as well as female boxer Mariana Juárez, who is known as “La Barbie.”
Health advocates are criticizing the health campaign for simultaneously sexualizing women’s bodies and shaming those who choose not to breastfeed their children, as opposed to simply focusing on the benefits of nursing. The ad makers are also being bashed for using pale-skinned, extremely thin women with toned tummies as “new mothers,” thus setting unrealistic expectations for women, who have just given birth. The sexually provocative postures of the celebrities in the Mexico City breastfeeding campaign are drawing further ire. According to Director Regina Tames of GIRE, the women used in the advertisements do not reflect the average new mother and she wonders who the advertisements are meant to attract.
Further focusing on an unintentional underlying message, Tames worries about more than the look of the campaign. She is critical of the “if you don’t breastfeed, you are a bad mother and you are the one to blame” aspect of the widely distributed ad campaign. In a written complaint sent to the city’s human rights commission, a group of activists censure the advertisements for placing the blame for not breastfeeding solely on the mothers, as opposed to giving them useful information about nursing. Instead of a nuanced approach that addresses both parents and talks about obstacles in the workplace and public spaces and the role of health authorities and the community at large, the advertisements reduce the multi-layer problem to one person, the mother.
The health campaign was launched by the Central American government because Mexico has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Latin America. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 14 percent of Mexican women nurse their children exclusively for the first six months. The ads were meant to encourage more women to breastfeed since numerous studies have shown the breastfeeding, especially in the first few months of a child’s life can help lower the risk of childhood obesity and breast cancer, both rising health concerns in Mexico. Additionally, breast milk is known to protect children from illnesses more effectively, while helping them strengthen their immune systems.
But the lower rates of breastfeeding in Mexico are not just the result of choice by new mothers. The issue is much more complicated. Many women in the country cannot breastfeed their children because of reasons such as lack of proper nutrition, which results in low or no milk production; insufficient maternity leave, which on about 12 weeks on average; and the lack of support for pumping milk or breastfeeding their children at their place of employment. Also, Mexico has not signed up for WHO guidelines that restrict maternity hospitals from giving new mothers free baby formula.
The rapid and strong backlash is reportedly resulting in the entire ad campaign being re-worked in terms of the message as well as the look of the women being featured. Hopefully, the Mexico City health department’s new breastfeeding campaign will draw admiration instead of ire.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay