MEXICO CITY – Mexico City thought it had a racy but catchy ad campaign for its effort boost the low level of breast-feeding by Mexican mothers, going with a slogan that roughly translates as "give your breast to you child, don't turn your back on them."
But the ads have drawn a storm of protest. Mothers and women's groups say the government is guilt-tripping women instead of addressing real-life barriers to breast-feeding. Many say many Mexican women need proper nutrition, more information, more maternity leave and permission to breast-feed or pump milk at work.
The ads "condemn mothers, rather than informing them about breast-feeding, and they reduce a social problem with multiple players — fathers as well as mothers, workplaces, health authorities, and public spaces and the community at large — to one person: the mother," a group of activists wrote in a complaint to the city's human rights commission.
City officials were seeking to address the fact that only one in seven mothers in Mexico breast-feeds exclusively in the first six months, the standard recommended by the World Health Organization. That is among the lowest levels in Latin America, and health experts say it's a serious problem for a country where millions live in extreme poverty and dirty water threatens health. Mother's milk is richer in nutrients and antibodies that protect newborns from infections.
The city had intended to use the ads to publicize a broader effort of setting up dozens of breast-feeding areas: comfortable, screened-off rooms with sinks and refrigerators to hold breast milk. But only three such centers currently operate in this metropolis of 9 million people. Women also face prohibitions on breast-feeding or -pumping at work, get about 12 weeks maternity leave on average, and often draw hostile stares if they breast-feed in public.
"It doesn't look like they did any diagnosis as to why women don't breast-feed," said Regina Tames, director of the Group for Informed Reproductive Choice. "They just lighted on a banal argument that women were selfish and don't want to mess up their bodies."
Adding insult to injury, the ads also feature thin actresses and entertainers in topless poses, with a banner stretched strategically across their chests, exposing only suspiciously flat tummies. Some activists said the ads look more like shampoo or soap commercials that routinely feature lighter-skinned, glamorous models than a discussion of a serious problem.
"I don't know what these mothers reflect, or who they were supposed to attract," Tames said.
An official at the city's health department, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, denied media reports that the print and Internet ads had been withdrawn, but acknowledged the campaign is being reworked. The official said that the slogan about "turning your back" will be changed and that the next phase of the campaign may include more average, everyday mothers.