Fanatical bullies? Not us, say La Leche

By Martin Johnston

Lisa Manning (left) and Alison Stanton say their criticism wasn't aimed at Piri Weepu. Photo / Richard Robinson
Lisa Manning (left) and Alison Stanton say their criticism wasn't aimed at Piri Weepu. Photo / Richard Robinson

The La Leche League has rejected its portrayal as a group of fanatics who bullied a government agency into censoring a clip of All Black Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his daughter.

Leaders of the group, which is committed to helping mothers to breastfeed if that is what they want, are bemused by the torrent of abuse it has received since it was revealed the league and others had objected to the two-second clip remaining in the "smoking, not our future" advertisement.

The 30-second Health Sponsorship Council ad is scheduled to start on TV tomorrow.

La Leche is Spanish for "the milk". La Leche leagues exist in many countries. New Zealand's was established in 1964. It is a voluntary organisation in which around 140 trained leaders provide breastfeeding information and support to women.

The league's New Zealand director, Alison Stanton, and board member Lisa Manning, both of whom had difficulty establishing breastfeeding, said yesterday that the group's response, when asked by the council about the bottle-feeding clip, was part of its normal activity: advocating for breast-feeding.

"This question about us being offended [by the bottle-feeding clip] and bullying or demanding that it be taken out - it was a measured response," said Ms Manning, former Good Morning host and partner of Lord of the Rings actor Jonathan Rhys-Davies.

Mrs Stanton's letter to the council "recommends" the bottle-feeding segment be removed, saying that it is unnecessary for the ad's main purpose of encouraging smokefree parenting and that the clip risked undoing the Ministry of Health's national breastfeeding education campaign.

"There are many other ways in which a father can be portrayed interacting with his baby that do not undermine one of the most important health messages."

Ms Manning said the idea that La Leche women had warned Weepu against bottle-feeding, which had been implied by news headlines, "is nonsense. Who in his right mind would warn Piri about anything? We love him. He's a great role model. And he's been caught up in the middle of this.

"We never intended this to be a reflection on Piri Weepu or his parenting.

"We have been publicly castigated for being advocates. What have we come to when we can't reasonably advocate for something that's universally recognised as being an important health message.

"As a result, a lot of people have expressed their anger about their own experiences, whether mothers who bottle-feed who don't feel supported, or dads who feel we have impugned their skills and their parenting. That's unfortunate and of course never intended."

Hundreds of readers emailed the Herald after reading about the clip being removed from the ad and again after reading a mother's story of being harassed in public for bottle-feeding her son. Some were outraged at the harassment or reported similar experiences of being bullied.

Ms Manning said this week's row showed some women who bottle-fed felt they had not been supported, "either by the health workers or perhaps by us. That is something that we have to look at ... because we don't intend to judge anybody".

She recognised that La Leche was sometimes perceived as a radical organisation, which she believed arose from the fact its members began talking about breastfeeding in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, a time when Western countries were typically a "bottle-feeding culture".

She too had preconceptions about La Leche, but they quickly dissipated when she joined. "I went and saw they weren't all wearing hippie clothes."

On the web
lalecheleague.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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