- Beyonce with her daughter, Blue Ivy. Carter Family/Ed Burke for Beyonce.com/AP Photo
By Toni Carey (@toni_carey)
A couple of weeks ago while out for lunch with husband Jay-Z, Beyonce shocked the world by breast feeding their new arrival, Blue Ivy, in public. At first I was annoyed with the continuous news coverage of baby Blue Ivy and that instantly, overnight, women across the world would take Beyonce’s lead and breastfeed instead of using formula. But I realized that this could be the best thing that has happened in favor of women’s reproductive rights in a long time.
The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and other health organizations have increasingly touted breast feeding as the best option for newborns. Research has shown that it reduces a baby’s risk of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity and even Type 2 diabetes, and it is recommended that breastfeeding is done exclusively for the first six months and up to a year.
But it seems like our nation is behind the curve. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 45 states, plus Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands, have laws that explicitly allow women to breastfeed in public, only 28 exempt nursing moms from public indecency laws. However, in 2006 a woman was kicked off her Delta/Freedom flight for nursing her daughter and refusing to cover herself with a blanket and last month, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official forced a nursing mom to pump milk in a public restroom – to prove she was really going to fill them with her own milk.
But there’s a glimmer of hope. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act now requires companies with more than 50 employees to give nursing mothers periodic breaks to pump and must be allowed to take these breaks in a private area that’s not a bathroom.
Beyonce did something that the CDC , the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, government official and any other organization couldn’t do. She is making breastfeeding cool, relevant and acceptable, especially in the African-American community. According to The Office of Minority Health, minorities have the lowest breastfeeding rates when compared to other population groups. For years, this has been a push from health advocacy groups across the board and they couldn’t have asked for a better “spokesperson,” even if it happened by chance. I’ve always been an advocate of breastfeeding, however, I feel that Beyonce has given me permission to do so when the time comes. The power of celebrity endorsement is still alive and well, and it will be interesting to see if breastfeeding among minorities, and all women, will increase over the next few years.
But what makes Beyonce breastfeeding any different from other celebrities? It isn’t that Beyonce is just a celebrity. She’s a celebrity that has the ability to connect with people on a personal level. We are all experiencing the joys of motherhood with her – through the Beyonce brand. Imagine if every brand could make this same connection. Brands have to sell, but it’s more important to draw interest first and foremost. Humanizing your brand makes you more than a commodity.
Health organizations often focus on the science or the status of the disease. But being approachable makes all the difference. It’s easy to get caught up in the strategy and stick to the formula today’s health campaigns follow. Breaking the mold will pay off – just follow Beyonce’s strategy. Be relevant, be authentic, be bold.