The Rugby Player and the Bottle

After an article was posted on a Canadian web news site yesterday some people have expressed outrage at the idea that LLL New Zealand recommended not using a photo that showed a well-known Maori rugby player feeding his baby with a bottle. The image was intended to be part of an anti-smoking campaign, and the government agency responsible for the campaign consulted with various community groups, as usual.

Here’s what happened: several of the groups and experts who were consulted, including La Leche League New Zealand, suggested that the bottle-feeding photo would be better replaced with another image, given the NZ Health Ministry’s ongoing support of breastfeeding. That image was replaced, but there has been considerable negative reaction about it.

Let me offer a comparison to perhaps frame this in a different light. Health experts today recommend that babies sleep on their backs. There are a small percentage of babies who should sleep on their tummies, because of certain medical issues. There are also some parents who feel, after considering the potential risks, that their babies sleep better on their tummies, and so they opt to have their babies sleep tummy-down.

(In the same way, medical experts strongly recommend breastfeeding. But there are some mothers who can’t breastfeed for medical or physical reasons, and others who opt not to breastfeed after considering the risks and benefits for their families.)

Let’s say the Ministry of Health was going to do a non-smoking ad, and the baby they wanted to use in the ad was one of those who needed, medically, to sleep on his tummy. Would it be appropriate to use a photo of the baby sleeping on his tummy in the ad campaign? I think it would not, because in the context of an ad, there’s not time or space to explain the situation. People would see the image in passing, and might unconsciously (or consciously) make the connection that the Ministry of Health recommends that babies sleep on their tummies.

Choosing not to use this image doesn’t mean the parents of that tummy-sleeping baby are doing anything wrong. It’s simply a recognition that an image, where you aren’t able to give any context, needs to be carefully chosen.

 The point of the photo in this ad campaign was to show the father’s loving relationship with his baby, and that’s something that can easily be done without including bottles. That doesn’t mean that parents who choose to use bottles, or who need to use bottles for various reasons, are being criticized or condemned. It’s simply an attempt on the part of the New Zealand government not to muddy another of its key public heath messages: the message that breastfeeding is the recommended way to feed infants.


This is a really simple and elegant analogy and I thank you very much for saying it so well.

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