Guest Post: Do We Need Corporations to Empower Us?

This post originally appeared on phdinparenting.com on May 6, 2013.    The site crashed a few hours later during the ensuing twitter storm so Phdinparenting.com gave us permission to reprint it here.  

Old news, new victims?

We’ve heard it all before. Corporations want to tell us that they get us. They know what we are thinking, what we are feeling, what we need. And, of course, they have the solution. This year, with its StrongMoms Empower campaign and StrongMoms Empower Summit (happening tomorrow in New York City), Similac (an infant formula brand) is trying to position itself as a leader in creating a more supportive and less judgmental environment for moms.

strongmomsempower pop-up step 1

Do you think you’ve heard this before? Possibly, you’ve heard it from other moms in the social media community who have been preaching it and practicing it for years. Possibly, you’ve heard it from Best for Babes. Their credo, which they wrote about on their site in 2009 (yes, 4 years before Similac decided to co-opt it) is:

Our Credo:

ALL moms deserve to make a truly informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt.

ALL breastfeeding moms deserve to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals without being undermined by cultural & institutional “Booby Traps“.

You’ll notice Similac co-opted the first part of this, while ignoring the second part. Why is that? It is because they are a big part of the cultural and institutional “booby traps” that Best for Babes wrote about and that I’ve written about numerous times on this site (see societal barriers to breastfeedingor why do moms quit breastfeeding?). Of course formula companies don’t want the moms who use their products to be subject to pressure, judgment or guilt (especially if that makes people afraid to use their products), because they only want there to be warm fuzzy feelings as it relates to their product. But make no mistake, they are not here to support your breastfeeding goals. They are here to slowly undermine your breastfeeding goals with deceptive advertising and unsolicited samples sent to the homes of breastfeeding moms.

It’s Just More ‘Mompaganda’

Similac doesn’t really care about supporting moms. They want moms to think that they care about them. They want moms to feel good about using their product, not guilty. They want moms to get ‘warm fuzzies’ when they think about Similac, instead of having negative feelings of shame, guilt, or judgment. That isn’t horrible, except that their true motivation is to increase sales, not to support moms.

In her guest post on my blog, Carly Stasko wrote about Mompaganda. She wrote:

momspagandaThe logic behind the motherhood brand is simple. Most moms care about the health, happiness and future of their children, and so a “mom-approved” company appears to embrace the same parental values by association. Mothers are seen to be discerning and cautious and safety-oriented. So by extension we conclude, even unconsciously, that a product advocated by other moms must have undergone some kind of vetting.


I’ve learned from my early days as a mom that the best guidance comes from parents on the same learning curve as me. Marketing that activates the “mom-brand” to sell products exploit the sense of trust and solidarity that arises naturally between parents.

Similac empowers moms. Moms speak positively about Similac to other moms who trust them. Other moms buy into it. It is a simple concept.

Writing today on the Broad Side about the Similac campaign, Kimberly Seals Allers (who writesMocha Manual) wrote that When Big Pharma ‘Strong’ Arms Moms, We All Lose:

Please forgive me for being suspect. It is certainly true that there is way too much pressure on mothers today, and we all could take a proverbial “chill pill” on the mommy-bashing. But when a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical giant (Similac is owned by Abbott Laboratories) plows millions of dollars into telling mothers to be “strong” and “non-judgmental,” I think I’m rightfully engaged in a side-eye glance.

Selling women messages that sound good on the surface but actually undermine them has been a corporate tactic since at least the 1950s. We aren’t really being supported to be strong moms–whatever that means anyway — we are being sold the idea of “strong” as a marketing tool for corporate interests. There’s a big difference and all parents should take note of the dangerous undercurrents.

What I typically find most insulting is that these corporations are counting on moms not knowing better. That we are so weary from the pressures of motherhood, that we will hang on to any messaging that appears to be a “release valve” without delving one centimeter beneath the surface to find the real facts.

Apparently “strong” does not mean savvy.

But a lot of moms won’t see it that way. Instead of being insulted by the way that corporations are trying to co-opt them to do marketing for free, they’ll be insulted by the fact that someone objects to the campaign. They’ll side with the corporation instead of siding with their fellow moms. How’s that for coming full circle on the supportive environment?

Support That Isn’t Trying to Profit From You

B4BCareWHO_nobase_WEBStruck by the similarities between what Similac is trying to say in its campaign and what Best for Babes has been saying for years, I asked Bettina Forbes and Danielle Rigg, the founders of Best for Babes, to comment on it. They told me:

“The problem with the StrongMoms Empower campaign is that it continues to throw mothers to the wolves when it comes to overcoming the Booby Traps(R) that undermine them every day. It keeps the onus on isolated mothers to jump the barbed wire, instead of putting pressure on the 360 degree world around them to demand that mothers get the support and care they need and deserve. Moms already know what is best for themselves and their families; what moms don’t have are enough hospitals, pediatricians, ob-gyns, family members, friends, health professionals, employers and welcoming public spaces to help them succeed without pressure, judgment or guilt.

The C.A.R.E.-WHO Alliance is the first alliance of businesses that have pledged to truly protect healthy infant feeding by (C) cheering on moms, (A) accepting them without judgment, pressure and guilt, (R) referring them to independently certified and qualified feeding specialists, providing (E) evidence-based information, and upholding the WHO-CODE. The Alliance does not give lip service to supporting and “empowering” moms while undermining their decisions and efforts at the same time. The C.A.R.E.-WHO Alliance rewards businesses and professionals who step up to the plate to help moms make informed feeding decisions and to help them achieve their personal goals, whatever those are.

The C.A.R.E.-WHO Alliance supports ALL moms. While an estimated 85% (CDC) of expecting moms want to breastfeed, not all moms want to or can breastfeed, and should be respected for their decision. Sometimes the barriers to breastfeeding are so overwhelming that it is simply not a feasible option. Mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed deserve better access to donor milk from an HMBANA human milk bank (currently cost is prohibitive for all but the most fragile infants), they deserve information on informal milk sharing, and they deserve information on the proper preparation of infant formula.

Expecting and new moms need the C.A.R.E.-WHO Alliance in the same way that they need to know which car seats are safe, who are the best pediatricians, and which blogs are trustworthy. What they don’t need is a sham badge or pat on the back from the very companies who are largely responsible for, and profiting from, their misery; companies that have systematically spread misinformation and set up a gauntlet of Booby Traps(R) everywhere mothers turn. If you believe that ALL parents deserve the best information on infant feeding, and deserve to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, make your voice heard! If you believe that every parent deserves to achieve their personal feeding goals without being Booby-Trapped(R), whether that goal is to breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months, or 2 years; and/or pump breastmilk, feed donor milk, or feed infant formula, then join us to grow the C.A.R.E.-WHO alliance! We don’t have millions in marketing budgets, but we are a core of compassionate and passionate mom-advocates who believe in mothers and babies’ rights to health and happiness.”

Where will you stand? With a company with a huge marketing budget and shareholders who are highly vested in getting you on board? Or with a nonprofit that truly wants to help moms meet their own goals? I know which one will make me stronger.

When the phdinparenting.com website is back up this post will be replaced with a link to the original.



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2 Comments | Last revised on 05/09/2013


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