Seldom do good causes make me cringe. This one had me not only cringing, but even drawing back and shrinking down in my pew. When the church’s guest speaker explained “we’d like you to take one of these beautiful baby bottles home, fill it with spare change and other donations throughout the week, and then bring it back next Saturday to benefit mothers and babies in need,” my stomach sank. As a nurse who has dedicated years of my life’s work to supporting mothers in breastfeeding, seeing a baby bottle used as the symbol for babies in need didn’t sit well with me. And hearing the words “beautiful” and “bottle” in the same sentence definitely triggered my cringe-shrink mechanism!
Only moments later, the woman continued, “… and we use the money to buy cribs and layettes and formula for the babies.” I sank even lower in my pew and muttered, perhaps a little too loudly, “This is outrageous.”
Baby = Bottle? Not So!
Everyone wants to help the babies, and “baby bottle campaigns” seem to be spreading. As far as I can tell from a quick Google search, such fundraisers are usually sponsored by religion-based organizations—but with “how to” pages popping up around the Internet, they’re likely to spread further. This is not the first time I’ve encountered one. This time, the pitch was made at the close of worship at the church I attend in Virginia; last year, I heard it at my mother’s church hundreds of miles away, outside of Rochester, New York.
Last year, I snagged the church secretary after the service and sputtered, “It isn’t responsible to promote bottles as the symbol for babyhood. And it certainly isn’t responsible to promote formula!” The secretary, who knows me well, said, “Marie, I get what you’re saying, but we can’t hand church-goers a breast as a container for donations!”
Although her response got a chortle out of me, it didn’t address my primary concern: That when we use bottles as a symbol of babies, we perpetuate the idea that babies need bottles. And formula. In fact, the argument could be made that it’s babies in need who need breastfeeding most of all! (That’s why WIC now focuses a lot of its effort on breastfeeding support.)
At my home church in Virginia, I decided to take a more diplomatic approach to the problem. Rather than take my concerns to the church staff, I decided to talk to the guest speaker directly. As I walked towards her, she reached out to hand me a bottle. (I felt so repulsed by the bottle coming towards me, I could feel myself recoil with a half step backwards.)
Politely but firmly, I said, “No, I am not taking the bottle, but I thought perhaps I could offer my services.” She directed me to the appropriate web site and phone number. I admit I don’t have a complete plan, but I do plan to contact them. Here’s how:
Combating the Baby Bottle Campaigns
- Contact the sponsoring organization. It appears to me that there are several—or perhaps many—sponsoring organizations. This seems to be propagating as a grassroots fundraiser for various organizations. I’ll start with the local one—the one that reached out to me at church and has an active campaign going on this week. I’ll probably stick with a traditional letter sent by postal mail, but e-mail does have the benefit of allowing me to cc: a local media contact, if I want to draw more attention to my concerns.
- Start the letter with a positive note. Applaud the organization’s efforts to help mothers and babies.
- Express a willingness to help. I could cheerfully donate money, but I absolutely refuse to put it into a baby bottle, or to knowingly give it to a group that will use it to purchase formula. I knit, so I’m happy to donate a lovely layette, or maybe a lovely shawl for the mother. I can certainly volunteer my time. I am fully qualified to educate pregnant or new mothers about breastfeeding, or to do some train-the-trainer courses for those who currently work with the mothers and babies. I’m open to other suggestions, too—as long as they don’t endorse formula, explicitly or implicitly.
- Build awareness in the Board of Directors. They need to hear that the cost of a bottle and a can of formula is small in comparison to the costs of not breastfeeding for the mothers and babies. The health, nutritional, economical, and emotional benefits (for lack of a better word) for breastfeeding are well-established, and I’ll highlight a few, such as fewer ear infections and gastrointestinal illness for the baby, lower health care costs, and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer for the mother. A nonprofit Board of Directors should use its resources wisely, and buying formula is difficult to justify.
- Offer an alternative. For decades, since infant formula overtook breastfeeding as the leading way to feed U.S. babies, its makers have equated bottles with babies. The symbology is hard to shake. But there are many alternatives available. How about pastel treat boxes adorned with dye-cut baby footprints? Every baby has footprints, and there’s no implication for infant feeding with little boxes!
Have you seen a Baby Bottle Campaign in your community? If so, how did you react? What suggestions do you have? I’d love to share ideas about this maddening fundraising scheme.