By Kim Blake (@kimkblake)
It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes this means educating new mothers about the most important things that they can do to ensure that their child grows up healthy and safe. After all, many moms are doing this for the first time and need all the advice they can get. As the mother of a nearly two year old little boy, I have been overwhelmed by everything that I should and shouldn’t do. And, the rules are changing all the time. For instance, my friends with kids just a year older than my son turned their child’s safety seat to forward-facing at one year (the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends forward-facing at age two) and widely used drop-side cribs that are now banned.
One of the most effective awareness campaigns targeting new moms has focused on preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development launched the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994, in response to a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies sleep on their backs or sides to reduce the risk of SIDS (revised in 1996 to say that back was the safest). Since the campaign started, the percentage of infants placed on their backs to sleep has increased dramatically, and the overall SIDS rates have declined by more than 50 percent. This campaign has been successful in promoting infant back sleeping and other risk-reduction strategies because it has focused on community-driven change by:
- Providing simple steps for change
- Engaging the community at-large with training sessions on the topic
- Educating health care professionals, public health educators, child care providers and anyone interested in educating their community about reducing SIDS with a train-the-trainer program – the “Reducing the Risk of SIDS in Child Care Speaker’s Kit”
When does an awareness campaign go too far? Some cite New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new breastfeeding initiative, Latch On NYC, which launched in March. The health benefits of breastfeeding are well-known. Breastfed babies are much less likely than formula-fed babies to get ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, and are also less likely to develop asthma. In fact, it may even help prevent SIDS.
It’s not the Mayor’s focus on breastfeeding itself that is controversial. It’s his approach, which will require new mothers seeking baby formula in the hospital to sign it out like medication. If moms request formula, they will receive a mandatory talk from staffers and nurses about why they should opt out.
This is not the first time that Mayor Bloomberg has legislated behavioral change, with bans on smoking, trans fats and now, a proposed ban on large sugary beverages. Why should breastfeeding be any different? Because, despite best intentions, it doesn’t always work out. Not all babies latch on properly, some moms don’t produce enough milk and others have medical conditions that prevent them from breastfeeding. For some, formula is the only option. Should all women try to breastfeed? Perhaps. But, should they be chastised when it doesn’t work out? Of course not.
In stark contrast to the Back to Sleep campaign’s community driven change, Latch On NYC is forcing change. Instead of engaging and inspiring key audiences, it is alienating the very people that it is trying to reach.
Other controversial awareness campaigns have been more successful because, like Back to Sleep, they have taken a community approach to change. The Sounds of Pertussis, an initiative of pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur Inc. and March of Dimes, encourages new and expecting parents to make sure that anyone in close contact with their infant is vaccinated against pertussis. The Sounds of Pertussis has achieved more than 65,000 Likes on Facebook because it seeks to engage the community at large through programs like the The Sounds of Pertussis Protection Quilt and a photo submission “pledge” to protect the babies in your life from pertussis (a bonus – for every photo posted, Sanofi Pasteur will donate $1 to March of Dimes). The campaign website also encourages people to submit their own personal story.
Awareness campaigns should support and motivate behavior change, not bully people into it. Don’t get me wrong – I am a strong supporter of breastfeeding. But, it’s something I want to hear about from the influential people in my life – my doctor, my family and my friends. I don’t want to be forced into it by my Mayor.