‘Breastfeeding mums get their figures back sooner’, reads an advert from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, with the tag line ‘Be A Yummier Mummy’ plastered above a picture of a purple wrap dress. ‘Breastfeeding mums don’t have to spend their money on formula milk’, another reads, above a picture of red stilettos.
The advert, reportedly from a 2010 breast-feeding campaign, resurfaced online yesterday after Amanda Abbington, from Netflix’s Safe, shared it on her Twitter with the caption ‘Hey Chelsea and Westminster hospital. Sit down. Thanks.’ Liked by almost three thousand users, her tweet spawned a thread of near 400 comments with women chastising the advert and sharing their own stories of formula-feeding shaming.
Questioning why the advert was ever approved, one user said: ‘This is disgusting. This is the sort of ill-considered garbage that increases women's feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Future Mum's. Mum's To Be, New Mum's and Experienced Mum's DO NOT NEED TO have their decisions ridiculed in such a sycophantic, sadistic manner! Shameful!’
While we can only hope that eight years on from this campaign the advert would not be released today, there’s no doubting that this kind of formula-feeding-shaming still continues to this day.
‘I could not [breastfeed],’ writes one Twitter user, ‘Could not. The "just keep persevering!" approach led to a dehydrated baby and a mother with PND & severe anxiety. There is a point when you are no longer 'encouraging BFing', you are just making a woman feel like a failure. There has to be a balance.’
‘Oh yes, when I was crying in paper pants & stale sweat at 5am because I couldn't get my newborn to latch on & it was very swiftly sending me actually insane, this would have REALLY helped me,’ wrote another, ‘I was at the birthing unit trying & failing. At one point in the small hours when I'd passed out exhausted a midwife came in & berated me. “Your baby is STARVING!”’
The stories continued, with many women highlighting that without formula, their baby would have been seriously malnourished. ‘I breastfed so passionately that my hypotonic baby ended up in hospital with malnutrition,’ said one user.
Of course, it’s not just the shaming of using formula that’s an issue, it’s the reducing of women to completely shallow stereotypes and perpetuating body shaming for new mums. ‘Because cracked nipples, mastitis and chronic sleep deprivation makes you yearn for 5-inch heels and a mini dress?’, tweeted one user, ‘this is like the worst Apprentice Ad Campaign EVER.’ While another shared, ‘This is one of the most ill-advised ad campaigns I have seen for some time. Apart from the obvious breastfeeding propaganda, they’re now pressurising new mums about their appearance & weight. What about prioritising the well-being of baby AND mum?! They should be ashamed.’
While the adverts aren’t known to be running as a current campaign, the fact it ever existed as one is baffling. There is one good thing to come of it though: the community of support around women who use formula.
The thread of comments, while disheartening that women are still clearly being shamed for their breastfeeding decisions, is only further proof that women opening up about the struggles of motherhood and supporting each other through it will help us demand better from medical staff when we’re in that position ourselves. So, thanks Amanda Abbington, we might be outraged this advert was approved, but as women come together against it, we’re hopeful.