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Colostrum on the radio

by Ann Charles on March 1st, 2013
Superfood for Babies front cover (Save the Children)

A couple of weeks ago, Save the Children published a report into ways to prevent infant death.  It focussed on the developing world and one of its main recommendations was that mothers should be encouraged to feed their babies colostrum (the first type of breastmilk that mothers make).

In some countries, feeding colostrum is culturally taboo and the authors think that babies die as a result.  The report outlined some barriers that women face in being able to get the correct information about feeding choices and covered additional suggestions such as improved maternity leave.

I know this because I read it.  The whole thing.  It was very thought-provoking and included interesting snippets about how firefighters and postal service workers are involved to support breastfeeding in Brazil.  Honestly!

Media review

Judging from some of the reaction in the UK, however, I wonder how many people ploughed through those 75 pages.  Most of the commentary here focussed on a small section of the report recommending that the existing warnings on breast milk substitutes (aka formula) be made large enough to cover one third of the tin.  The rest of the coverage then emphasised how much ‘guilt’ UK-based bottle-feeding women might have if they read reports about the health benefits of breastfeeding (I wonder if they’d missed the sections about how it was focussing on the global context or listing several reasons why women might have difficulties in being able to be correctly supported to breastfeed?)*

Loquacious Lactator wrote a summary of the coverage, contrasting the Daily Mail’s focus on ‘cigarette-style health warnings’ with the coverage of the Telegraph, which featured a story of a UK-based mother who had had feeding issues.

LL also pointed out that the Guardian seemed to be one of the few places that had put the story into its international context.


Pink Radio - picture from LoopZilla

Picture by LoopZilla

There’s one piece of coverage that I didn’t see get much mention, and I’d really like to flag it up.

Mike Thomson from the BBC did an excellent report which was broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme.  A longer version of it can be found here:  I feel it puts the Save the Children findings into real context, as it focuses on a village in South Sudan and uses personal accounts to show several sides to the story.

Cue a blogpost change of tack:

I’ll be honest.  I’m a radio person.  As much as I’m a birth geek, I’m also a radio geek.  I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade and this kind of audio is the reason I’m addicted to it.  So forgive me for a bit of background as to why I think this report is so well crafted, never mind the content (it’s no wonder that Mike has won so many Radio Academy Sony Awards):

1)   The sound takes you there.  Notice the rich use of atmos (atmospheric sound) under each section of interview.  He lets it breathe.  The listener is given time to imagine themselves in each new location before the voices begin.

2)   Descriptive links.  He tells you what he can see in a way that brings the scene straight to your brain.  ‘Under a giant tree…’ – you’re there!

3)   Hearing real people.  Reading reports is all very well, but a bit abstract.  Real stories – told by human voices, from their own viewpoint, really helps to build a picture of empathy and understanding.  There’s nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, and a well crafted radio report is like tagging along with the person covering the story.  If you can’t be there yourself, being ‘shown’ by someone else is the next best thing.

4)   Inclusion of other viewpoints, told from first-hand witnesses.  We hear why some people locally in South Sudan don’t agree with the suggestions to feed colostrum.

5)   There is one question in the report that is utterly powerful.  I can’t put my finger on why, but it’s the section that has had me listening to this audio again and again, and thinking about it in the shower and then coming back to it a few days later.  Mike asks a woman who is against the feeding of colostrum if any of her children made it to adulthood.  “Three of them died,” she said.  And then there’s a pause.

If you haven’t listened yet, I urge you to take six and a half minutes and do so now!

(Disclosure:  I work for the same organisation that Mike does but I was not involved in the coverage in any way.  I slightly preferred the shorter version which went out on Today as it was a bit tighter.  I’m not writing on behalf of my employer or any organisation, not responsible for external links, yadayada.  Please keep any comments kind.  Thank you.)

(*The lack of support for western women needing to formula-feed is a separate issue, for which see Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice or Fearless Formula Feeder.)

What do you think?  Radio geeks – what’s your take on Mike’s report?  Birth geeks – how did you find the overall coverage?  Did you read the Save the Children report in full?  Please let me know in the comments below!

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