Piri Weepu reveals worry for baby's health

By Kathryn Powley

Piri Weepu's bottle-feeding was on medical grounds. Photo / Supplied
Piri Weepu's bottle-feeding was on medical grounds. Photo / Supplied

All Black Piri Weepu has stepped back into the bottle-feeding controversy, speaking about why his allergy-prone baby daughter couldn't drink breast milk. "Not all babies do well on breast milk," he says.

Yesterday Weepu, who is at All Black training camp in West Auckland, revealed on Twitter that little Taylor's medical condition was causing concern: "Just wanna go home and hug her!! Love you baby girl! Xx."

When Taylor was just 6 months old, Weepu and his daughters were filmed going about their everyday life for an ad promoting smoke-free living. The Herald on Sunday broke the story of how Weepu had fed Taylor from a bottle but the 2-second shot was cut from the 30-second ad after dozens of emails from breastfeeding advocates.

Weepu found himself in the middle of a "media storm". In a new book, Piri: Straight Up, he says: "Quite frankly I didn't think it was anyone's business."

He expresses his amazement at "all hell breaking loose" as the matter grew into a polarising public debate. "Never in a million years did I expect a couple of seconds of me bottle-feeding my baby to become the hot potato it did."

He says Taylor had been prescribed a special formula. "Both my girls suffer from allergies and when Taylor was just a week old she was taken to hospital because she came out in a bad rash and was having trouble breathing. We mentioned Keira's problems to the staff so they tested Taylor, the results came back positive, and we were prescribed a special formula, EleCare, for her.

"I'm not against breastfeeding, but I feel strongly that everyone's got the right to make the choice, bottle or breast. Not all women can breastfeed, not all babies do well on breast milk."

How he and his partner Candice feed Taylor and her big sister Keira is nobody else's business, he says.

The ad was made by the Health Sponsorship Council, now part of the Health Promotions Agency. The council removed the bottle-feeding image after seeking the views of La Leche League and Plunket.

Weepu says: "La Leche reckoned that due to my high profile the public might think I'm an advocate of bottle-feeding over breast. It didn't take long for the media to get wind of what was happening, social media, too, and it seemed suddenly that everyone had an opinion on the issue of bottle versus breastfeeding."

La Leche League bore the brunt of the criticism. This week spokeswoman Lisa Manning, having read the relevant part of Weepu's book, says La Leche League only wanted the Health Sponsorship Council to avoid conveying conflicting messages in government health promotions.

Weepu is right in calling it "a media storm", she says, and La Leche felt misrepresented as the story grew. "We never mentioned Piri in our response or questioned his role as a father or his parenting choices," she says. "We agree wholeheartedly that Piri and all parents have the right to decide how to bring up and feed their children."

Neither Plunket nor the NZ College of Midwives would comment this week but in February chief executive Karen Guilliland said her organisation opposed the image. "We just figured that Piri Weepu was so loved that whatever he did would carry a huge weight."

As for the ad's makers, asked whether the fallout had damaged the campaign or affected the way ads were made, Health Promotions Agency spokeswoman Lynne Walsh would say only that Weepu had done a great job in promoting the smokefree message.

- Herald on Sunday

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