My obligatory 2 cents on the Motrin brouhaha

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the Motrin ad about babywearing that was pulled due to some mommies’ noses being put out of joint (my personal hat tip goes to Nancy 🙂 ). In case you haven’t, here’s the ad:

Quite a few of the protesting mothers thought the ad was condescending, and portrayed “babywearing” and its “proven benefits” in a negative light, by virtue of mentioning that it may strain one’s shoulders and back in a way that might make Mom reach for some pharmacological help and by the use of the qualifier “supposedly” before talking about the bonding and paucity of crying babies experience as a result of being “worn”. In fact, some mothers claimed that if the practice hurts, it must be because you’re doing it wrong.

Just so you get where I’m coming from, let me just say that while not very fond of the phrase “babywearing” per se (babies are people, not articles of clothing), even my AP friends have told me that I held my babies a lot. I’ve also carried them in Snuglis and slings (I had two OTSBH’s) whenever it was convenient – though less and less as the babies became heavier. I have to admit that baby carriers are quite common here (the most popular, I think, being the locally-made tinokis) and their use doesn’t automatically brand one as a True Believer in AP. I also take ibuprofen (not the Motrin brand, though – it isn’t available here) for my migraines.

I’d like to relate to some of the more common complaints heard from the protesters of the ad:

The ad was ‘condescending’. I confess to not liking the ad very much, mostly from the aesthetic point of view. I can hear just fine, TYVM, so I really don’t need erratically-placed text accompanying the narrative. The narrator’s clip and tone of voice sounded neurotic, self-absorbed and overly familiar as well. I suppose some women interpreted that as condescending, but I just found it mildly annoying…and the narrator, someone to condescend to. Annoying enough to complain and boycott Motrin brand ibuprofen as a result? Nah.

The ad will discourage “babywearing” because it makes it sound like a painful chore. On the contrary, I think admitting that women can run into difficulties and offering them a solution to said difficulties would actually encourage those who tried it, but are about to give up. Lots of women “babywear”, not necessarily out of some (misguided, IMO) ideology but for convenience’s sake (it makes eminent sense to navigate public tramsportation while babywearing, for example), and acknowledging it’s not all butterflies and roses is very refreshing.

Interestingly, some breastfeeding advocates have attacked formula companies for putting out breastfeeding manuals which portray the practice in a too-rosy light, hence if Mom’s reality doesn’t match the idyll in the manual, she will throw up her hands and run for the formula. Wouldn’t the same logic work with regard to the lumps and bumps of babywearing?

Using the term “supposedly” does an injustice to the the proven benefits of babywearing. Actually, “supposedly” is probably pretty accurate to describe the purported benefits of the practice. I’m not referring to the practical benefits, such as being able to carry your baby hands-free, not have to deal with bulky carriages and such. I think we can all agree that YMMV on those. I’m talking about the scientifically-“proven” benefits to carrying your baby on your body for a large part of the day. Claimed benefits include better growth with “kangaroo care”, increased attachment security and decreased crying (as stated in the ad; baby sling manufacturers such as the OTSBH make even more far-reaching claims, but they’re in the business of selling the things and I haven’t been able to find much to support them).

Better growth with “kangaroo care”: There is a plethora of studies showing that premature babies, when placed in close, skin-to-skin contact with a parent (usually Mom), have stabler vital signs and grow better. This has not been shown with term infants, who are in any case “fully baked”, whose vital signs are relatively stable (barring extreme environmental conditions) and who are strong enough to feed adequately. It could be true, but it hasn’t, to my knowledge, been checked.

Increased attachment security: As far as I can tell, there has been only one study which examined this hypothesis in low socioeconomic level women and their babies. The women (23 in the test group, 26 in the control) were randomized to receive either a soft baby carrier, in which a pedometer was installed to determine how much the women used it (test group) vs. an infant seat (control group). The mothers in the carrier group were found to be more responsive to their babies at 3.5 months and when given a Strange Situation Test at 13 months, the babies in the test group were much more likely to be securely attached. However, the authors were also not sure these results would translate to other socioeconomic groups; the fact that the control group had a very low proportion of securely attached babies (38%) would suggest further studies of this type should be done before reaching a conclusion. The babies whose mothers used soft carriers were not actually “worn” constantly, either; those moms who used the carriers the most clocked all of 9 miles’ worth of walking with it (a sedentary person walks 0.5-1 mile a day on average).

Reduced crying: While there is one study which demonstrates this, the preponderance of evidence shows that increased carrying doesn’t decrease the amount a baby will cry, especially not when the crying is related to colic.

To make a long story short, I think “supposedly”, while this may not have been the advertiser’s intention, is actually a very apt term when describing the (supposed) benefits of babywearing for the average baby.

If something hurts while you’re babywearing, you must be doing it wrong. And you thought the ad was condescending?!

Seriously…carrying a baby in utero causes back pain for some women. Heck, carrying milk-laden breasts on one’s chest can cause back pain for some women as well. Perhaps they’re carrying those wrong, too?

The fact is, lugging a 20lb. baby on your chest, hip or back for very long can hurt even with an optimally-used sling. Even if the baby’s weight is distributed over a large area, it may hurt less, but at some point it’ll still get damned uncomfortable (cue Motrin).

Mothers who care enough to babywear are usually breastfeeding; Motrin is bad to take when nursing. Nope.

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11 Responses

  1. I love motrin/ ibuprofen. I am not a big fan of comericals in general so I don’t care what they say. It wasn’t an ad for a devil worshiping cult. It was goofy really. I liked sling for by boy when he was young but the snugglie was a complete horror show. So do what works best for you. Oh yeah, I forgot many ncb folks are part of a cult. It has all the cult like atributes.

  2. As a father who sometimes carries his daughter in a Bjorn-like contraption, I really didn’t understand the uproar. But then again, as has been pointed out to all men who dared comment on this issue, it wasn’t directed at me.

  3. I thought the commercial was actually pretty funny. The uproar over it was even funnier. The big thing on the moms website I frequent ( was that the commercial made the comment at the end about looking like a “real mom” and it called babywearing a “fad”. I didn’t see those comments as offensive, though.

  4. I’m not sure it wasn’t directed at men who babywear as well, Blake. It’s just that the babywearing Mommies are the overwhelming majority (my husband held our babies as much, if not more, than I did, but you wouldn’t catch him dead in a sling or a Bjorn). And I did see men commenting on the subject w/o being shouted down…especially when they agreed with those who thought the ad was the pits 😉 …

    Lisa – the ad called babywearing “in fashion”. If someone wants to interpret that as meaning a here-today, gone-tomorrow fad, that’s their own issues showing, not what the ad actually said. You’d think that APers’ ideals becoming fashionable would be what they were hoping for, but no…it’s far more fashionable in their circles to pretend they’re a beleaguered minority oppressed by the “mainstream” (rolling eyes)…

    And what’s so horrible about feeling like a “real (or is it official?) mom” when one babywears? would they rather one feel like a “fake mom”?

  5. Wow. Hadn’t heard about this one.

    My main thought on seeing the ad, other than that it screams ‘low budget’, was that I’m much more bothered by the implication that pain bad enough to make you cry is good pain as long as it’s for your baby, and that, if something you’re doing to make you look like an official mom is painful, the appropriate response is to take painkillers so that you can keep doing it.

  6. @ Sarah V – I completely agree with you on that one. That is exactly what the babywearing moms were mad about. Babywearing should not be painful. If it is, you’re doing something wrong or have a cheap crappy carrier.

  7. You didn’t actually read the post, did you, Annie?

  8. Personally I don’t love the ad but I don’t think its such a horrible thing they mentioned feeling like an “official” mom when you babywear.
    I’ve been wearing my son in a sling since he was a newborn and yes, as a brand new mom, like breastfeeding, wearing him close to me did make me feel “official” (in my eyes alone, I don’t really care what anyone else thinks). Becoming a mom is a huge transition and a life changing thing- sometimes it felt surreal at first and for me wearing my son helped it feel more real.
    Now that my son is almost 11 months old and 20 pounds I still wear him some- and it does hurt sometimes despite the fact that I have a quality well fitting sling and wear it correctly. I hate the AP line- if something hurts or doesn’t work for you (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, whatever) “you are doing it wrong”.

  9. I really have no idea why that partivular phrase was found so offensive. I guess that some people were just looking to be offended.

  10. I’ve just been reading the Anisfeld et al study that supposedly showed babywearing to be associated with greater attachment security, and there is a HUGE flaw in the study – each group of women was told that they had to use the product they’d been given (carriers for one group, infant seats for the other) on a daily basis, and *not* purchase or use the other product. In other words, the control group in this study were being told that they *must* put their baby in a seat every day and must *not* buy a carrier. Surely that could have interfered with the normal process of bonding with and getting to know your baby? It seems plausible to me that the differences in attachment security could be due, not to the carriers increasing the chance of secure attachment, but to the instructions to the control group decreasing that chance.

  11. I think the authors of the study would claim that was a strength of their research, not a flaw – i.e., the seat-users and the carrier-users were demarcated very sharply. But you’re right that if the seats were recommended strongly to the point where the babies spent all day in the seats “because the doctors told me to” and were rarely held and interacted with less as a result – this could possibly have had a negative effect on the babies’ attachment style in the seat group. I don’t know that that’s what happened, but the amount of seat use should have been monitored in the same way as carrier use.

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