Archive for Politics

Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom — Yea or Nay?

We don’t have an elf on the shelf mainly because I need another thing to do this holiday season like I need more stuffed animals in my kids’ rooms. I have four kids ages 7 and under. If I can get them all in bed in time to watch an episode of Doctor Who on Netflix, I call it a win. The tooth fairy has almost forgotten her duties several times already and I don’t think an elf of ours would fair much better. Seriously, parents…why do you want to make more messes for you to clean up…do you need more kids? Want to borrow one of mine?

My daughter thinks that if she wishes on a star Santa will send us one. Sorry kid, blame Jiminy Cricket.

Before you call CPS on me, however, my kids will not be deprived of this wacky new tradition because their classrooms have their very own elves.

I was a little surprised to find out that my kid’s class had adopted (is that the proper EotS terminology? I am a newbie at this…) an elf. Let me be clear before I get fried in the flames of the Internet…I said, “surprised,” not “incensed” or even “concerned.”

Elf on the Shelf Classroom

So, I did some research (i.e. I asked my friends on Facebook and looked at the first page of results in a Google search…totally New York Times standards of journalism going on in here).

Read more

How Do Military Families Feel About the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

I remember getting into a twitter tiff a few years ago with a fellow conservative about the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. The gentleman basically accused me of pushing my liberal agenda at the expense of our men and women at arms. At which point, I informed him that I am hardly liberal and my husband was currently deployed to Iraq. My follow up question was, “When did you serve in the military?” At that point, he simply thanked my husband for his service and went his merry way.

I cannot say there is not homophobia in the military–but I have always believed there is a lot less than people outside the military family seem to think. Most servicemembers just want to do their duty. And most military families just want the best people possible supporting their servicemembers. Read more

Election Day #TroopVote and Soldier Voting During Hurricane Sandy Relief Missions AAR

The untimely arrival of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast United States managed to coincide with both high tide, the full moon, and the U.S. Presidential Election. As many people were without gas, polling places were without electricity, and lots of displaced people were either living in shelters or with friends and relatives who had heat and lights, the storm disrupted voting all over the Tri-State area.

Of particular concern to me was the idea that our soldiers who were called up for emergency duty would be disenfranchised by their service.

In the end, New Jersey and New York patched together last minute fixes that would allow determined displaced people to vote. New Jersey governor, Christie, announced that all displaced New Jersey residents could vote via e-mail and fax. New York first extended the absentee ballot application to November 2, late on November 1 and failed to publicize this information or notify the New York National Guard leadership until it was too late for this information to help anyone vote.

Early on November 5, the application was again extended to November 5 but applicants had to go to their county board of elections in person–something impossible for people without gas and soldiers who cannot leave their duty station, which may be far from their home county.

Finally, late on November 5, New York governor, Cuomo, announced all New Yorkers could vote in state-wide and national elections at any polling place with a signed affidavit.

On my husband’s installation, he and other officers gave up sleep to work this issue after their duty shifts were over.

In my opinion, this was all too little, too late. Many people were still disenfranchised by the lack of timely and clear action by the states affected.

When it became clear the storm was going to hit, a clear plan should have been in place for allowing all citizens to vote. Along with information handed out during relief efforts, there should have been printed forms with the state board of elections contact information and how to vote. There is probably also an argument in here for a move to electronic voting so that all district ballots are available at any polling place but that is outside of the scope of this post.

What I do want to discuss is preparedness for future elections.

  • Register as a Military Voter: If you are a member of the National Guard, please, RIGHT NOW, before you forget, contact your state board of elections and see your options for registering as a military voter or permanent/perpetual absentee ballot voter. This should pre-register you to receive your absentee ballot just in case you are ever called up for duty during an election.
  • Deadline Extensions:All states should immediately extend registration and postmark deadlines to the maximum possible during a state of emergency, especially for military called up for emergency duty. Please write to your governor and state legislators to request that they propose this legislation, immediately.
  • Better Coordination with Military Leadership: This does not require legislative action–just better communication. Our state governments need to make sure the National Guard leadership is aware of all new information as soon as it becomes available.
  • Explore Alternatives to Traditional Polling Places: The governors of the affected states were clearly caught off guard by the timing of the storm. No one should be able to use that excuse in the future. All states should have emergency plans for displaced people to vote in ALL elections, including local ones.
  • Improved National Guard Communication with Soldiers: As soon as soldiers are called up, they should be presented with a packet detailing their options for casting their votes, all deadlines, and directions for how to use military facilities to meet the requirements. These men and women barely had time to secure their homes and make sure their own families were safe before heading out to help others. There should be no hurdles to them casting their votes.

You might think this a small matter when people lost their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods but isn’t this something for which so many have marched and fought and died? One of the missions of the soldiers has been to monitor generators and safety at polling places.  Should they guard others so civilians may vote while they themselves cannot? Relief efforts must absolutely continue but they do not have to and should not result in disenfranchising our soldiers.

(Photo: Pennsylvania National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols/Released)

Soldiers Disenfranchised by their Service?

Update 11/5: New York allows absentee ballets to be sent TODAY ONLY. 

All absentee ballot applications must be made in person at your county board of elections by Monday, November 5th.

The State Board of Elections has approved an extension of the deadline for absentee ballots to be received and counted from 7 days after Election Day to 13 days after Election Day. Ballots must still be postmarked no later than Monday, November 5th, however they now have until November 19th to arrive at the local Board of Elections.

Get word to your soldiers in the area! Let them know! The access to news and information is limited so share the updated word via Twitter and Facebook to help get the message out there. 

Update 11/4: The focus is on NY now…Let Gov Cuomo know our the votes of soldiers called up for Sandy should count–like in Alabama and NJ. Please everyone, fill out this contact form and call on Monday morning–thank you! On Twitter, let @NYGovCuomo  know you want troops’ votes to count! Contact: or 518-474-8390 #TroopVote #SOT

11/3 11:25 PM: According to a 10:19 PM tweet from NJ Governor Christie, residents will be able to vote via fax or e-mail:

Governor Christie Governor ChristieVerified ‏@GovChristie

E-mail and fax voting will be available to New Jerseyans displaced by Hurricane #Sandy. For more information call 1-877-NJVOTER.

Please help so our NY servicemembers and soldiers in other affected states can vote, too!

UPDATE 11/3 8pm: Please use #troopvote and #SOT to spread the word on Twitter. You can also tweet @NYGovCuomo @GovChristie to let them know that you want our soldiers’ votes to be counted! I plan to call the governor’s office on Monday morning and hope you will, as well. Thank you Angela and Adrianna for helping to get the word out!

Most soldiers know they can vote using an absentee ballot. However, many of our National Guard and Reserve soldiers did not expect to be called up due to Hurricane Sandy.  Alabama has extended the application for an absentee ballot application to November 5 for military servicemembers deployed in response to Hurricane Sandy.

New York also extended the deadline but only to November 2 on November 1 and did not publicize this information. I haven’t found any information for New Jersey. For soldiers like my husband who were called up on November 2, or for those who have been fighting the flood waters and keeping peace in the shelters since October 29, this is not enough to prevent them from effectively being disenfranchised by their service.

There has been a lot of discussion about using National Guard and Reserve troops to ensure that civilians can vote. Isn’t it the least we can do to make sure these men and women, who sacrifice their safety and comfort for our own, are able to exercise their basic right to vote?

Please write your state board of elections and your governor and ask that they follow Alabama’s example and make sure that all soldiers have an opportunity to vote.

Photo credit.

The BlogHer & Nestle / Stouffers / Butterfinger Sponsorship Controversy


In September 2009, Nestle, one of the most widely boycotted and protested brands in the world, sponsored a trip to its headquarters for mom and dad bloggers.

They created a hastag #NestleFamily and posted images and names of the bloggers on a microsite, calling them “Nestle Family Bloggers”. Their hashtagged tweets also appeared on the microsite.

Before these bloggers went, Annie of PhDinParenting asked them to reconsider. She believed that no engagement with Nestle was likely to prove productive at a fully sponsored brand event at corporate head quarters.

In my opinion, this is especially true given the nature of the event and the fact that most of the bloggers there have stated that they were unaware of the concerns about Nestle until being contacted by Annie.

During the event, activists, boycotters, protesters, and others challenged Nestle’s use of the social media space on Twitter, using the same hashtag (#NestleFamily).

For those unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a “microblogging” site where you send updates of 140 characters. You can protect your tweets or allow them to be visible to the public. You can view the entire stream of all public tweets, the tweets of only the people you “follow”, “lists” you have created, and/or everyone with a publicly available profile using a hashtag. The use of a hashtag is free, is not pre-registered with twitter, and is not restricted to a list of followers–anyone can create or use a hashtag.

Hashtags are used to organize the conversation around a topic (#shoplocal), make a joke (#fail), or as a tool for twitter parties, both for regularly scheduled get-togethers (#ecowed, #gno) or one-time events like #NestleFamily.

BlogHer ’10 and Stouffers and Butterfinger

BlogHer, the largest conference specifically for female bloggers recently announced that Stouffers will be a sponsor. Butterfinger will be added to the list, soon.

A number of people who used the #NestleFamily hashtag to criticize Nestle or challenge the attendees or who directly sent public messages to the #NestleFamily attendees, are attending or were planning to attend BlogHer ’10. At least one person, Annie of PhD in Parenting, is speaking on the panel, “Radical Blogging Moms: Don’t Even Think About Not Taking These Moms Seriously“.

An organization I co-founded with my Mamanista co-editor, Bloganthropy, is also a sponsor of BlogHer ’10.

The Differences Between #NestleFamily and BlogHer ’10

Those who oppose what we see as Nestle’s unethical and even illegal and immoral practices are at a crossroads. Two people have already decided that they must return or tear up their BlogHer ticket in order to consistently observe their personal policy of boycotting Nestle. Two people have stated that they are going and have given their reasons for their choices. Others, at least three that I know of, are still deciding. Still others were already not attending BlogHer, are not members of the BlogHer community, or are not even bloggers.

Amy at MomSpark has asked very legitimate questions about how BlogHer and how anti-Nestle people who attend BlogHer will be viewed (or, as she put it, “judged”).

A few of her commenters, however, seem to take a particular glee in pointing out what they see as “hypocrisy” or a “double standard”.

Regardless of what is the strongest, most clear, most consistent, most useful, or most ethical position to take, I believe that these two events are very, very different.

On the one hand, you have an event designed to promote Nestle products to an invited group of bloggers. The entire experience is paid by Nestle. The images, names, and words of those bloggers are listed under the heading of “Nestle Bloggers”.

As Liz from Mom-101, who considers herself a third party observer, pointed out:

My understanding is that you all signed some pretty comprehensive contracts giving rights to use your likeness, your twitter streams, videos of you, and so forth. This means you are now public advocates of the brand. Nestle is referring to you as “The Nestle Family Bloggers.” That’s an endorsement. And I believe you gave your permission for it.

On the other hand, you have an event designed to promote the female blogging community and all are welcome to purchase tickets. The experience is paid for by attendees (some of whom secure private sponsors) and a number of official event sponsors. The conference itself “sold out” by the first week in March and at that time, the complete list of sponsors was not available. No blogger will be identified as a blogger “for” or “with” or “in favor of” a particular brand unless they choose to be.

There are other differences, which some people may feel are more or less on point. There is the issue of financial and legal extrication from the situation as some BlogHer attendees have booked plane tickets or even signed contracts with sponsors. In my case, this is not a big issue. I don’t know if the price of following one’s conscience is relevant to whether or not attending is ethical or not…but it certainly is another difference between the two.

I’ve spoken with several people (some of whom aren’t bloggers) about the situation and most seem to agree the events are apples and oranges.

Are Nestle-protesters Using a Double Standard?

I point the differences out in response to the “double standard” accusation. To identify a double standard, the situations would have to be comparable.

In fact, during the #NestleFamily event discussion, well before we knew this would be an issue with BlogHer, I drew the distinction between a sponsor for a conference and attending a brand event where your name and image are listed as a blogger for the brand.

On Annie’s post at PhDinParenting, Greg at Telling Dad asked:

[...]Do we conduct due diligence before accepting advertising? Sponsorships? Products to review? How many regulations are we going to pass upon ourselves to blog? [...]

And I responded (again, in part):

[...]In this case, it isn’t that Nestle is a sponsor of a blogger conference, it is a NestleFamily event[...]

Now, whether they are “better” or “worse” (i.e. present more or less of an argument for boycotting the event) is another question.

Disagree with my logic all you like but don’t claim that saying the two events are very different is post-facto rationalization on my part.

Conflating People and Arguments

The other “double standard” argument is that the anti-Nestle people are asking to be treated with more understanding and/or respect than we gave to those who attended the Nestle Family meeting…many of whom, after all, had just learned of the concerns about Nestle shortly before attending and some of whom have clearly stated that after looking at the concerns, they still support Nestle.

To this I respond that people and arguments are being conflated. Among the “anti-Nestle” tweeters, there were long-term and vocal boycotters, those who have deep concerns about the ethics of Nestle’s marketing and/or sourcing of cocoa, lactivists, anti-corporate activists, fair trade activists, and others. Some of these people only spoke out against Nestle, others spoke to Nestle’s attempt to move into the parenting social media space, others engaged only Nestle Family attendees who spoke on point to the protest, others actively sought out attendees to call them out on what they believed to be an unethical decision, and among all these was also the random assortment of trolls and flamers who like to jump into the middle of any controversy and begin to hurl insults.

I believe that I engaged each person as an individual and spoke with them about their statements and beliefs.

After doing this with several of the attendees and other people who defended the event and/or those who attended, I found a few new tweeters and bloggers I enjoy. I also found a few people who were so hateful, nasty, and racist in their defense of Nestle that I have taken several measures to avoid socializing or working with those people in the future.

I am only asking the Nestle Family attendees and their supporters to offer me the same courtesy I extended to them: engage me as an individual and discuss my ideas with me–not attributing the actions of others to me.

That doesn’t sound like a double standard, does it?

In fact, I have, in a more closely related example, been in “their shoes” to the extent that I have championed a brand that many of the same anti-Nestle activists believe violates the WHO code. My objectivity was also called into question because I am an unpaid member of their “Mom Mavens” group–even though I have taken no official action as a member of that group nor received any compensation in any form whatsoever (travel expenses, samples, nada). However, I do not feel “bullied” or “harassed” at all. I have a disagreement of opinion with some other members of my community. I am willing to discuss that disagreement of opinion and have them challenge the views I express on my blog and on twitter.

Is it Hypocritical to Attend?

Here’s where it gets sticky.

My understanding of the word hypocritical is to say one thing and to do another. As before, we have to look at individual statements and see if their words are congruent with their actions.

If someone stated that he or she does not believe it is possible to ethically attend any event sponsored by Nestle, then the choice is clear.

However, if that is not the statement that person made, then things become more ambiguous.

Several supporters and attendees of the Nestle Family event have asserted that the anti-Nestle activists saw the issue as “black and white” and now are asking everyone to see shades of gray.

It has always been gray to me and I’ve never argued otherwise.

In fact, in comments on several blogs at the time, well before I even knew I was going to BlogHer or even thought about its sponsors, I said (in part):

I have no issue with the bloggers who accepted the invitation either not knowing about Nestle, knowing about it but not believing the evidence because they have evidence to the contrary, or knowing about it and believing it but hoping their attendance would draw attention to this important issue and allow them to personally deliver their objections to Nestle.

Of course it is a spectrum and a balance. Do you think that if Nestle had a product that would save my child’s life I would refuse to accept it? Would I drive an hour or more out of my way every time I go grocery shopping, expending huge amounts of gasoline, to shop at a store that does not carry Nestle? Do I refuse to accept public services because Nestle pays taxes in the United States? Somewhere between being willing to die to protest Nestle and cheering on Nestle as a brand, lies a vast middle of positions to take.

Does that mean I shouldn’t take any action to challenge Nestle simply because I am unwilling to take perfect action or because perfect action would require me to violate even more deeply held principles?

It is only hypocritical to attend BlogHer ’10 if a person said that a boycott against Nestle should be absolute and no one should attend an event sponsored in whole or in part by Nestle. Otherwise, that label does not apply to . Note that several important voices in our community will not be present at BlogHer ’10 because they believe that this is the only ethical stance they can take.

Even if it is Not Hypocritical, is it Ethical? (…and even stickier…)

As I said before, there are key differences between the events but whether or not these differences mean that it is ethical to attend one event and not the other (or whether it would be possible to attend both events or neither of the events) requires a deeper analysis.

Each of these contrasts can be examined from different perspectives.

For example, Catherine of Her Bad Mother has been cogently arguing that the stronger (which I take to mean clearer but could have a variety of different interpretations) position is for anyone who has publicly called for boycott to boycott any events sponsored in whole or in part by Nestle. She spoke also to the point that Nestle Family attendees received little value in return while BlogHer participants are receiving quite a bit of value from the sponsors:

I would actually argue that attending a branded Nestle event that was all about Nestle is more defensible than attending a conference sponsored by Nestle if one has boycotted Nestle. In the former case, one donates one’s time – receives little benefit, really, unless you count bunny photo opps and a plane ride as meaningful benefits, but expends one’s own effort (it’s why some bloggers insist that we should be paid for such junkets – they’re WORK) – and has the opportunity to discuss and/or confront Nestle directly. It is, in some respects, the perfect opportunity to engage constructively with a company. With something like a conference, there’s no opportunity for engagement with a sponsor, and it’s all benefit to the participant (a weekend with friends, opportunity for self-promotion, learning experience in panels, etc.) [...]

Now, I don’t think that the Nestle Family attendees felt they were receiving little of value. If so, why did they attend? Obviously they saw some value in it to themselves, their brands, or their communities.

Even accepting this idea that a participant at BlogHer is on the receiving end of greater value from sponsors and that all sponsors make the whole conference possible (even though BlogHer was going forward even before these two sponsorships), there is still another way of looking at this same fact. Over at The Feminist Breeder,Gina explains:

Nestle is contributing a few dollars to helping outspoken, intelligent, and influential women come together to amplify their message, be change agents, and ultimately undermine everything Nestle stands for. The Joke is On Nestle – not on me.

Which is to say that the ethical implications of attending or not attending, whether or not it contradicts any one individual’s prior statement, is complicated.

Will attendance at BlogHer be seen as an acceptance of Nestle’s move into the social media parenting space? Or is going and speaking about radical blogging subverting Nestle’s agenda? In the spectrum, is it more important to lend your voice to the important and empowering work done at BlogHer than to make your objections to Nestle more consistent?

There are a lot of valid points in both columns. Not going/speaking sends a message to BlogHer and allows you to maintain a clear personal stance on benefiting from Nestle’s marketing campaigns. Going/speaking allows you to participate in a community of female bloggers and to inspire others. Would not going be more inspiring? Or would the message be lost among all the other attendees eager to get in the door?

Perhaps there are people who will see any justification for attendance as a rationalization. That’s one of those things that is impossible to prove. Obviously if I decide to attend, I won’t see my reasons as a rationalization even if they are. And if you believe that I can’t ethically or legitimately attend, you will see any explanation I offer as a rationalization.

Ultimately, I and others will make there own decision. And if you disagree with my decision, you can feel free to tell me. If you lose respect for me because of my decision, that is your prerogative. In the end, I’m the one who has to live with myself.

Why Am I Writing All of This?

Mama Saga has a ridiculously small number of readers. About 1/30 of the number Mamanista gets.

This is my personal blog to work through my thoughts and share with friends.

I am not foolish enough to think that Nestle cares what I think or whether or not I buy their cookie dough (really the only product I would buy if I were to buy Nestle brands).

Perhaps naively, though, I think BlogHer does care what a group of its members, attendees, contributors, speakers, editors, and party hosts thinks.

Would any individual’s statement to BlogHer be stronger if she gives up her ticket? Or can we make that statement to BlogHer and use our attendance to continue to influence the growth of BlogHer?

Of course, in writing this, I run the risk that “the lady doth protest too much”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In the end, I will make my own decision and you are free to have your opinion on it.

This is a start of a discussion, not my final word on the topic.

Proposals to Mitigate the Effect

For those who choose to attend, there are several proposals and suggestions to mitigate the effect of accepting Nestle’s partial sponsorship.

If I attend, I will donate the portion that Nestle Brands are subsidizing my ticket. This is a gesture and a statement. Annie has also proposed this idea and taken it a step forward–she will make it a group fundraiser. It does not change the ethical equation but it at least shows that a group of bloggers are willing to accept a higher priced ticket (or fewer available spots) if it means that the sponsors adhere to some code of ethical conduct.

If it would be accepted, I would try to raise the money to substitute for their entire sponsorship. However, I suspect that BlogHer still will not remove the sponsors, even if they wished to, because they likely have a contract with them. Even they have an escape clause, it could still mean a battle with the legal department of a mammoth corporation.

There are other possibilities and many bloggers are currently considering options that will stay within BlogHer’s rules and be respectful of other attendees.

I would also like to suggest that anyone who thinks these issues are important, more important than, say, the product reviews I do on Mamanista, attend the Radical Blogging Moms panel. I don’t consider myself a radical. I pretty darn conservative when it comes down to it. But I do like ideas. And if thinking that debate isn’t about being “mean” or “rude” is radical, well…let’s get radical. Maybe we can get more than the usual 20 people I hear some panels get. Maybe we can pack that room. And maybe we can have a real conversation about our values.

BlogHer: Please Draft an Ethical Sponsorship Policy

BlogHer has an advertising network (BlogHerAds) that allows people to opt out of categories of ads. At the request of Annie, BlogHer developed additional opt-out categories for BlogHerAds, including non-WHO compliant ads. I checked off that box for Mama Saga.

As many have pointed out, there is no “opting out” of a portion of the conference. BlogHer is made possible by its sponsors.

No sponsor will please everyone but it does not follow, then, that all sponsors are healthy choices for BlogHer. Another argument I have heard floated is that several in the blogging community are Nestle fans. Not having Nestle brands as BlogHer conference sponsors would not exclude those individual bloggers from being sponsored by Nestle. No one would be silencing their voices.

Various organizations and charities have “ethical sponsorship policies”. These policies speak to the mission of the group.

Since BlogHer is a community of female bloggers its policies might exclude sponsorship from companies that degrade women, for example.

Should official BlogHer sponsors be “family-friendly”? Or will BlogHer accept more “adult”-oriented sponsors? Or perhaps those sponsors would only be welcome for appropriately-themed panels?

Ultimately, that policy would be up to BlogHer to determine and interpret. However, simply having a thoughtful policy would be a very forward-thinking statement.

This policy does not have to be exclusionary but it can give a vision of what BlogHer is about. And then it is up to the individual to take it or leave it.

Bad Attitudes About Breastfeeding Hurt Babies

Even when breastfeeding is not tough, it is difficult in the United States. That’s why I have a great deal of respect and gratitude for my lactivist friends.

Today, I had the opportunity to chat with two other nursing mothers. One was also on her second child and the other was on her third. I was saddened to hear both say that they planned on stopping much earlier with their current baby than they did with their previous child.

Both said that it was not due to mastitis or supply problems. Both mothers believed the choice they were making to breastfeed was the right one for their families.

However both felt that breastfeeding in public makes other people uncomfortable. For this reason, they felt they had to breastfeed before leaving the house and had to be back home within two hours. They were, understandably, tired of “planning their lives around breastfeeding”.

With the first baby, they were willing to put up with this personal inconvenience so they could both fulfill the needs of the baby while not offending others around them. However, now that they each had older children, it was increasingly difficult to schedule their day around a baby’s feedings and still meet the needs of their other children.

How sad. A mother who wants to breastfeed her child and is successful in doing so will stop before she or the baby is ready to stop because other people give dirty looks or say nasty things. Because as women we have been socialized to feel the greater fault is to make another uncomfortable, especially if that other is an older male, even one we do not know.

When I engage with people online about this issue, I often hear from opponents of breastfeeding in public that they are not opposed to breastfeeding–they just want mothers to go somewhere else to do it, to respect the feelings of others. This sounds rational (perhaps to others, not to me) until you realize they are asking mothers to place a stranger’s discomfort over a normal, everyday, social activity (to feed your baby when and where he is hungry) over a baby’s right to eat. And it may sound reasonable (again, to others) until you realize the chilling effect it has on breastfeeding rates.

I am all for a society where we are respectful of others. I’ll turn down my music, teach my kids to say “excuse me” if they burp, and hold doors open for people carrying packages–but don’t ask a mother to go somewhere else to feed a hungry child.

Why I Stand By Medela

Full disclosure up front: Medela sponsored my co-editor at for BlogHer. And Medela has also sent me a Freestyle for review. It is a single-user pump and I have kept it and used it several times. I don’t pump often, as my babies seem to hate bottles, but I did find it very helpful when I needed to pump during my son’s recent nursing strike.

The WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes has established a set of rules restricting marketing of formula and feeding bottles and teats.

(Keep in mind that the WHO Code is just a code from a non-governmental organization and only becomes law if adopted as such by individual nations.)

Because Medela has offered giveaways of its bottle system and included bottle feeding of pumped breastmilk as an idealized image in an advertising campaign, organizations have declared that Medela is in violation of the code.

Medela argues that the WHO code is about breastmilk admits that its actions may be viewed as a violation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

There is little funding for promoting breastfeeding, when stacked up against the billion dollar budgets of the formula industry.

One approach to leveling the playing field is to place restrictions on how the makers of not only formula, but also manufacturers of bottles, market to new moms.

As much as I sympathize with the desire to keep aggressive marketing away from emotionally vulnerable new moms, this seems to be a very paternalistic response.

Instead, I prefer to work with the companies that sell breastfeeding accessories to get the financial backing for promoting breastfeeding and restoring breastfeeding to its place as the normal, default option.

As admirable as I find the spirit of the WHO Code, it puts formula on the level of a drug and bottles on the level of syringes, and meddles too much for my taste with consumer choice.

According to the WHO code, to remain in compliance, a company can manufacture and sell bottles and teats/nipples but cannot advertise or promote these products to the general public, provide samples of the product, “distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding,” or “seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children”.

The only issue I really have is with the tagline in the Medela commercial: “When you choose to breastfeed, you’re doing what’s best for your baby. When you choose Medela breastfeeding products, you’re doing what’s best for you both.”

I can see how that rankles a little. I believe that breastfeeding is usually what is best for both mom and baby.

However, rare is the modern mom who never has call for a pump. Even though my babies hated bottles, I still used a pump during my daughter’s heart operation and during both of their nursing strikes.

Medela justifies its change in its marketing by pointing to consumer questions over the BPA-free status of its products.

And while surely the company is also looking at its bottom line, I do believe it is legitimately addressing a consumer demand in advertising its bottles. Arguments that moms “already know” about Medela bottles if they use Medela pumps seem to assume a level of consumer savvy across the board that I’m not sure exists. Active in moms’ groups on and offline, I can tell you that moms who do not venture online as often just are not as aware of consumer information as those who do.

And, ultimately, I just do not have a problem with a breastpump company marketing its bottles.

In today’s world, a company that does not reach out directly to its consumers, through store displays, through events, and yes, through social media is not going to maintain its profile and market share for long.

A stronger, more responsive, more involved Medela is a company that is better able to work with advocates to promote breastfeeding as the best option. And Medela has shown itself to be a responsible and zealous partner in the past.

Although I appreciate the principled stand of severing ties with any company judged to be in violation of the WHO code, I would urge those looking at this issue to consider Medela’s marketing in the context of both the current consumer climate and Medela’s strong support of breastfeeding mothers.

How to Turn a Brand Advocate Into a Scourge in 8 Easy Steps

Mocking your customers’ concerns, especially when you profited from those specific concerns, is not a classy move.

SIGG went from darling of the blogosphere to pariah by following this simple plan:

  1. Take advantage of a health concern by positioning your product as the solution.
  2. Put out confusing statements that you cannot disclose what’s in your bottle lining but that your bottles “do not leach BPA” and are “non-toxic”. **wink, wink, nudge, nudge**
  3. Strong arm anyone who says there is BPA in the bottle lining
  4. Quietly develop a lining that is actually BPA-free without mentioning that the old one has BPA.
  5. Issue a legally and linguistically convoluted piece of double-speak claiming you are admitting the old liners had BPA because “the conversation has changed”.
  6. Don’t correct anyone who mentions that SIGG is BPA-free but then blame any confusion on journalists and retailers.
  7. Although you benefited from consumers concerned about BPA, claim that BPA really ain’t all that bad.
  8. And don’t forget to mock consumers, especially moms, on your facebook page (and then quickly delete it when someone challenges you).

SIGG says BPA A-OK: Quoting an article on their facebook page: “Most adults carry BPA in their bodies but expert opinion on the risks is divided. The European Food Safety Authority believes that people naturally convert the chemical into less harmful substances in the body.”

And besides, it is everywhere…because, you know, your children drink water from CDs: Responding to a consumer’s concerns: “You should also know, especially if you are concerned with BPA that it is also found in many, many products…”

Responding to another: “You should also know there’s BPA in dental adhesive…check with your dentist too if you have fillings and are concerned.”

Did you catch the snark on that last one? No? Too subtle? How about this: “For all those mothers concerned about any trace of BPA in anything, you should know BPA is also used to make dental sealants, flame retardants, and is an additive in many other widely consumer products. CDs / DVDs even the cellphone you use to call us.

The others remain on the page but this one mysteriously disappeared after I commented on their wall (along with my comment which I will admit was harsh, but clean). But I haz screencaptchuh:

That’s right mamacita. Put down the phone. Papa SIGG has everything under control.

Check out these posts for more information:

Is the Animal Circus Cruel?

In October, we went as a family to the circus. I always loved the circus as a child and I was delighted to see it was every bit as magical as I remembered it.

When the lights came on and the elephant parade made its entrance, my toddler was rapt, I nearly cried with joy, and my newborn–well, he fell asleep…but everyone else was really, really excited.

As we were leaving, however, I noticed a protest of the use of animals in the show.

When I got home, I did some research, and all the available information seems so biased, I just can’t make up my mind! I’d love to make the circus a family tradition, but I also don’t want to support animal cruelty.

I am an animal lover, and I also happen to be a vegetarian (though I have no issue with others eating meat), but I do not think that captivity is prima facie cruelty. So, if anyone has some relatively objective and recent information about the lives of these animals in the major circuses (good or bad), I would really love to hear more.

Co-Sleeping is Safe and Natural

I posted earlier about a “public [dis]service announcement” from the State of New York, against co-sleeping. This campaign did not educate about sleeping safely or even just “warn about the dangers of co-sleeping,” as the response stated. Rather, it showed a frightening image of a woman smothering her baby by accident with a voice-over that “babies sleep safest alone,” a statement NOT supported by the latest research.

I took some time to calm down and write a letter to my state. If you live in New York and wish to contact the department, you may do so here.

They responded, and I answered again. The state’s response is essentially that there were an alarming number of infant deaths in which co-sleeping was a factor. They do not take into account whether co-sleeping was a contributing or primary factor, nor do they compare this number with the number of infant deaths in cribs. Their reaction (scaring parents into not co-sleeping) is akin to saying that babies die in cars so, instead of promoting vehicular safety, they will launch a campaign discouraging parents from taking their baby in a car at all, ever.

In searching for the campaign online, I discovered that many other states have similar campaigns. Please be on the lookout to see if there is a campaign in your state and let me know in the comments. I will be posting a list of states that have these campaigns as I find them. If you write to your state, please share your letter in the comments and/or a link to your letter on your own blog.

Even if you are not a co-sleeper, please support the right of others to do so!

Other States With Campaigns (with links to the department to which you may address your concerns)

Florida, Indiana (news stories; looking for the link), Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri (found the St. Louis link, working on the state link), New York

Open Letter to New York State Office of Children Services

Dear New York State Office of Children and Family Services,

I expect official offices of my state government to use my tax dollars and launch helpful, well-researched campaigns only when necessary. So, I was dismayed to see your television “public service announcement” claiming that “babies sleep safer alone.”

Perhaps whatever committee approve this advertisement is unaware that co-sleeping, when done safely, has a whole host of benefits. Not only do parents and children who co-sleep have the opportunity to bond and get more sleep and thrive, co-sleeping, when done safely, also reduces the risk of SIDS.

Dr. Sears, a prominent pediatric authority, has written a well-researched and clear article about the benefits of co-sleeping, including its possible effect on reducing SIDS. Theories about this aspect of co-sleeping include the idea that babies who co-sleep sleep lighter and therefore wake up more easily in case of a problem, mothers are more attuned to their baby’s sleep patterns when sharing a bed, and that the parents’ heart and breathing rhythms may even help form baby’s.

Before I continue, I assure you I am no zealot. I firmly believe each family should choose the arrangement that works best for its circumstances. Personally, I did not begin co-sleeping with my daughter until she was already close to a year old, and then only part of the night.

What concerns me is that your campaign of misinformation will scare parents into making decisions that may not be right for their families.

A far more honest campaign would discuss sleep safety in general. As with most parenting, co-sleepers must plan ahead and be drug-free to ensure their baby’s safety.

Baby’s sleep space, whether a crib or an adult bed, should be firm and free from excess clutter and fabric. If you choose to co-sleep, remove all heavy blankets and excess pillows from the bed. If you use recreational or prescription drugs that may affect your sleep patterns, baby may be safer in a crib. Consult your physician if you have concerns about prescription medications.

New and exciting research is getting us that much closer to understanding and preventing SIDS. We now know that placing baby on his back, ensuring a smoke free environment, and eliminating suffocation hazards are all actions that reduce SIDS deaths. For the time being, however, we cannot explain SIDS deaths. What we do know is that there are key ways that parents can better ensure infant sleep safety.

Instead of wasting money on factually suspect scare tactics, spend our tax dollars on a campaign that reflects the best science and educates parents to make the right decisions for their children.

Their Response

Thank you for contacting the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) on June 29, 2008.

The statewide Babies Sleep Safest Alone campaign was developed as a result of an alarming number in fatalities reported to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR), where co-sleeping was a factor listed in the narrative of the report. Since
2006, 89 deaths were reported to the SCR in this category. Out of that number, 68 deaths involved infants between 0 and 3 months old, and 17 involved babies between 4-12 months old. The remainder fell in the 1 to 5 years old category.

Our campaign materials alert parents about the dangers of co-sleeping and the factors that can cause an infant’s death while sharing a bed with an adult or an older sibling. We are aware that co-sleeping is a controversial topic and are confident that educated parents will take
the necessary precautions to prevent an accidental death, which is the goal of this multilingual statewide campaign.

Our Babies Sleep Safest Alone campaign supports the American Academy of Pediatrics strong stance against co-sleeping and recognizes the risk factors that can potentially harm your child.

Thank you again for your input and concern.

My Response

Your campaign fails to take into account the latest research. The AAP is not the final word. Look at the research available and you will see that co-sleeping SIDS deaths are a tiny number compared to crib SIDS deaths.

First, consider whether co-sleeping was actually happening in these reports–ie a baby in an bed, with an adult, without excess bedding. Eliminate falls from babies sleeping alone on a bed,”couch” co-sleeping, and deaths that are actually drug or alcohol related and you’ll have a different number.

Then, compare that number to SIDS deaths in cribs.

Tell me, how many babies died of SIDS in their cribs in New York?

I think you’ll find that co-sleeping safely is even safer than crib sleeping safely.

Your campaign does not discuss any of these issues. It makes a blanket statement that “Babies Sleep Safest Alone,” which isn’t true, and shows an image of a mother accidentally smothering her child, which is not what happens.

Tax dollars should not be spent on a campaign that uses scary images to take an irresponsible stand, which does not reflect the best research, on a controversial topic.

Put the money towards a campaign for safe sleep spaces, whether that be a crib or a bed, and I would be 100% behind that campaign.