Bottle mum repeatedly harassed

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, Martin Johnston

Kate Rhodes, 24, says she has been accused of being a bad mother while bottle-feeding her 6-month-old son, Dylan. Photo / Supplied
Kate Rhodes, 24, says she has been accused of being a bad mother while bottle-feeding her 6-month-old son, Dylan. Photo / Supplied

A mother who bottle-feeds her son says she has been repeatedly harassed by other mothers in public - and is now embarrassed to go to the supermarket for his formula.

Kate Rhodes, 24, of Manukau, says she has been told off, harassed and accused of being a bad mother while bottle-feeding her 6-month-old son, Dylan.

"It's ridiculous how much grief people get just for having a bottle. Two weeks ago I was at the mall in the food court and my son started to cry.

"I gave him a bottle and a lady came up to me and said it's a really bad look and it's not a good way to represent New Zealand parents.

"I was just like, 'are you serious?'. I told her to eff off."

Ms Rhodes' comments highlight growing anguish over the feeding debate and follow the removal of a clip in a television ad in which All Black Piri Weepu bottle-feeds his 6-month-old daughter, Taylor. The debate has erupted into claims of bullying and that men's rights are being trampled on.

Author and writer Wendyl Nissen said yesterday that she had been dumped from a magazine on speaking out for fathers' feeding rights, and a men's group called for a government agency to stand up for "positive images of masculinity".

Ms Rhodes said she had also been harassed while feeding her son in a parents' room at the Westfield shopping mall in Manukau City.

"It gets to you a little bit when it's a continual thing. It makes me feel like I don't want to go out with my son when he's close to needing a feed, because of the judgment. Even now, it's got to the point I'm embarrassed to buy formula from the mall."

She also has a 5-year-old daughter, Chloe, and said breastfeeding was not a norm in her family.

Weepu was being filmed for a public-health advertisement - a TV campaign about being smokefree for the sake of children - and the bottle-feeding image was cut after protests from La Leche League and other health groups at the "inconsistent" message.

Weepu's daughter is allergic to dairy so she has to be fed a special formula in a bottle.

Wendyl Nissen said yesterday she had been dropped from magazine The Natural Parent - which she had allowed to run excerpts of her books for free - after her appearance on Campbell Live, in which she supported fathers feeding their babies. She accused La Leche of suggesting that "women have the exclusive right of feeding babies".

Nissen told the Herald she supported breastfeeding, but bottle-feeding was necessary for many women because of pressures such as returning to work early and the short post-birth hospital stays now funded by the Government.

"I am pro-breastfeeding but anti-bullying of mums to do so," Nissen wrote on Facebook yesterday.

Broadcaster Pam Corkery wrote on Facebook that Nissen's being dropped by the magazine was "scandalous. There was no agenda other than good parenting from you".

Natural Parent editor Nadine Gaunt said last night that Nissen's dismissal was in "no way" connected to the issues surrounding feeding and bonding of father and child.

However, the magazine had received dozens of messages from parents who supported breastfeeding.

"Distraught mothers told us how they were being [sought] out for criticism and condemnation for their perceived views on Piri and bottle-feeding in general. This was further exacerbated by Wendyl's stance.

"It was then deemed appropriate for The Natural Parent magazine and Wendyl to pursue their individual paths."

Meanwhile, a member of advocacy group Positive Men, Darryl Ward, accused the Health Sponsorship Council - which commissioned the Weepu ad - of being "bullied" by La Leche and midwives into "censoring this footage". "We all know breast is better than bottle. However, we rarely see or hear any positive portrayals of men ... the benefits of retaining the censored footage ... more than outweigh any potential risk."

The council's chief executive, Iain Potter, said it always ran "many eyes" over its social marketing ads after initial production work to see if unintended background images such as alcohol or fast-food brands needed to be removed. The council received "overwhelming" opposition from health groups to the bottle-feeding clip in the 30-second advert.

The advert, to run from Sunday, still contained images of "fatherhood and bonding", Mr Potter said.

La Leche spokeswoman Lisa Manning said the sometimes "venomous" criticism of the league had been surprising.

The row was about one Government health campaign undermining another.

Meanwhile, Westfield Group spokeswoman Deb McGhie said it was concerning to hear of Ms Rhodes' experience and said the rooms were not solely for breast-feeding mums.

Microwaves and bottle-warmers were in the parents' rooms so that the needs of all parents and children were catered for.

The Government's policy is for babies to be exclusively breast-fed until they are 6 months old, although this was achieved for just 14 per cent, on 2007 figures, up from 9 per cent in 2002.

The Health Ministry says breastfeeding decreases the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy, may cut the risk of getting asthma, and helps reduce the risk of obesity.

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- NZ Herald

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