The Real Problem With Breastfeeding is How We Are Talking About Breastfeeding.

By Kimberly Seals Allers

Spoiler Alert: We are Losing the Story War

The Story War Changing the Narrative and Winning the Story War on Breastfeeding

Lately, when my Google alerts on “Breastfeeding” appears in my Inbox, I literally hold my breath as I click to open the email and glance at its contents. If it’s not another mother being kicked out of a public place where she was breastfeeding, there are mothers staging nurse-ins in protests, or twitter wars in response to mistreatment of a nursing mother—words like “banned” “fight back” “lashes out”, “demand” “forced to apologize” are everywhere in the breastfeeding media narrative. Increasingly the language of breastfeeding is the language of battle. Sides are taken. Fights ensue. Women resort to resistance protest measures on social media and in real life. And so it has me thinking, whether the real problem of our continued embarrassingly low-for-a-world-leader breastfeeding rates is not about breastfeeding at all. After all no one can deny its immunological benefits and unparalleled preventative health properties. But perhaps, the problem of lackluster duration rates is directly related to how we are talking about breastfeeding. There is no question that we are in a story war when it comes infant feeding norms, but the language of the war we are in is all about fighting.

In this environment, everyone loses.

Perhaps in our zealousness to “defend” breastfeeding we are actually turning people away, creating more divisions and essentially shooting ourselves in the foot. After all, who wants to take up an activity that requires battle techniques or civil rights era tactics? Or may cause you to be kicked out of a public place and in the middle of a media maelstrom? And so I’m forced to ask, whether the language of breastfeeding which includes scientific terms like “evidence-based” and overly simplistic slogans like “breast is best” combined with a protest background is actually inflicting more harm than good. Is this how we win? And by win, I mean, increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates and thereby improve the health outcomes of mothers and babies.

In the breastfeeding world we often see the “enemy” as the deep-pocketed infant formula marketers who peddle misinformation and insidious ideas masquerading as mother empowerment. With such a formidable competitor we see no way to battle such a behemoth and actually be victorious, and our frustration with their deceptive tactics often leads to anger. And rightly so. And while this may be a valid human response, it may not be the best tactical response. The biblical story of David and Goliath comes to mind. David did not attempt to battle Goliath on his strengths, but he exploited his weakness and his arrogance.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Truth is, we can win the breastfeeding story war without engaging in the language of battle. We have a more powerful tool at our disposal and historically it has won wars time after time. I know you’re asking yourself right now, well, what is it? That brings me to my excitement over the July 13th debut of my dynamic, new live stream presentation, Be The Shift: Changing the Narrative & Winning the Story War in Breastfeeding and my not-to-be-missed keynote at the upcoming MILK: An Infant Feeding Conference in Los Angeles on July 31 & August 1. In both presentations, I will be drawing on my decades of experience as a media professional, expert story teller and communications strategist and applying that knowledge to one of the greatest public health issues of our time—breastfeeding. For months, I’ve been intrigued by this topic and I have been studying the art of war, the phenomenon of story wars and combining it with what I know as a media professional and a big ideas person with a passion for breastfeeding. One thing is clear, today’s story wars are not the story wars of yore because frankly our oral tradition has changed—today it is more digitally powered. And that can’t be ignored. But winning the war means the strategy needs to work on the policy, professional and people level—I’ll detail how.

On July 13th, I’ll be streaming live from the uber chic Neuehouse NYC and it is going to be an eye-opening game changer for anyone who cares about infant health. I can’t wait to share these new learnings with you. You can get more information and register here. And then on July 31 and August 1st, I’ll bring the essence of that presentation to the west coast, along with exclusive worksheets and interactive exercises to the MILK conference. I hope to see you there where we can work IRL and one-on-one in shifting your personal or organizational story to improve our breastfeeding outcomes.

Aristotle said “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” By shifting our language and understanding the elements of a winning story narrative we can organize and maintain the kind of peace that improves maternal and infant health outcomes for generations.

Now, there’s a battle, I’m willing to get behind. Please join me.

In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

Changing the narrative and winning the story war on breastfeeding

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KSA Hi resKimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist, author and a nationally recognized media commentator, consultant and advocate for breastfeeding and infant health. A former writer at FORTUNE and senior editor at Essence magazine, Kimberly is widely considered a leading voice in the counterculture movement in infant feeding. Last year, her online commentaries on the social, structural and racial complexities of maternal and child health issues received over 2 million page views. Kimberly’s fifth book, a groundbreaking analysis of the social, political and economic influences on the American breastfeeding landscape will be published by St. Martin’s Press next year.
 As a consultant, Kimberly has led innovative community-based projects in the southeast and Philadelphia that explore the impact of “first food deserts”—communities that severely lack or have inaccessible resources to support mothers who choose to breastfeed—and examining how to transform these areas into more breastfeeding supportive environments. Kimberly is currently the project director of the First Food Friendly Community Initiative (3FCI), an innovative pilot project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, designed to understand the impact of “place” as a social determinant of breastfeeding success and to create multi-pronged community support for breastfeeding. Her advocacy work has also centered on connecting breast milk as the most healthful first food to the broader “good food” movement and rethinking childhood nutrition and preventative health as beginning at birth.   
In addition, Kimberly specializes in issues related to African American motherhood and breastfeeding and is the former editorial director of The Black Maternal Health Project of Women’s eNews. In 2011, Kimberly was named an IATP Food and Community Fellow, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and works to increase awareness of the first food—breast milk, in vulnerable communities. She currently leads nationwide workshops for health care professionals on cultural competency and breastfeeding and is a prominent speaker on community-based strategies to reduce the racial disparities in breastfeeding and infant mortality rates. 
 Kimberly has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Anderson Cooper, the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Fox News and featured in various international and national media outlets, including The Guardian (U.K.), U.S. News & World Report, Essence, Black Enterprise, Pregnancy and in various online media properties.
Kimberly is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A divorced mother of two, she lives in Queens, New York, with her children and two turtles. Follow her on Twitter @iamKSealsAllers
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Comments

  1. Michelle T says:

    Intriguing… Any chance you’ll make it to the St Louis area? Or maybe a series of posts here on TLB?

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