This weekend, as bumps and buggies meandered across London for 2012's first Baby Show (billed as 'baby and maternity shopping at its best') I wondered how many expected this to be an uncomplicated chance to choose high-quality essentials surrounded by support and well-researched advice?
In reality each £20-poorer attendee at this heavily marketed mecca found themselves unwittingly linked to the arms trade and exposed to some highly contentious advice from unregulated self-styled baby gurus.
Taking the apparent links with arms trade first, while the vast majority of ticket-holders will have come away none-the-wiser, the Royal College of Midwives joins a growing list of organisations speaking out against the event's links to the UK's trade in weapons; branding the show's current conduct as 'abhorrent' and 'unscrupulous'. Whilst event-organisers are keen to keep the smiling pregnant women side of business away from the precision weaponry side, Clarion Events, the company behind the show, have a seemingly insatiable appetite for owning and running arms fairs alongside their family-friendly roadshows.
Despite an initial public outcry upon taking over the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) fair (which led in 2008 to UNICEF rejecting promised Baby Show-related donations) Clarion Events has not only continued its dual relationship with birth and death, but expanded the latter purchasing six more arms fairs in the past five years.
Consumers are largely unaware that their ticket-price goes straight to a company whose DSEi fair's guest-list sported, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), "an all-star cast of tyrants, despots, and human rights abusers." For those in doubt about whether the Clarion Events portfolio matters to the every day Baby Show attendee Ian Pollock of CAAT reminds us what the direct results of the arms fairs are:
"The fact that Clarion Events run the Baby Show while also organising the DSEi arms fair is unconscionable. Bahrain's presence at the last DSEi is particularly horrifying in light of the violence taking place right now, violence that is being carried out with British-made weapons."
RCM spokesperson Sue Jacob is also clear on their position. "As a caring organisation that believes in providing universal care to women and babies (some of whom have themselves been victims of war) we object strongly to links between the Baby Show and the arms trade. It is abhorrent that Clarion Events is putting money before people and the RCM calls on them to break their links with the arms trade now."
While many remain entirely in the dark on the ethical mismatch of Clarion's portfolio, their seeming lack of regard for the parents and babies at the heart of the event radiates out from its shady roots and into the on-the-day experience.
Moving to the second point about the promotion of apparently self-styled baby gurus, the Baby Show's Facebook wall gives some indications of the many concerns raised as visitors question the credentials and query the advice of speakers like Alison Scott-Wright, Jo Tantum. On Facebook Corrine Rooney asks Jo Tantum to provide evidence for her claims during the show that: "All babies can sleep 11pm-7am at three months, or about 12-13 pounds" asking Jo to look at this leaflet produced by UNICEF and endorsed by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID) and the RCM which clearly states that "...the majority of infants continue to breastfeed between one and three times a night for the first six months of life." While advice on baby sleep can seem harmless to the initiated, FSID's involvement informs us that misinformation is often far from benign.
In responding to critiques of her advice, Jo Tantum, having completed three years of training with the Nursery Nursing Education Board (http://www.babysecretsltd.com/biography.html), alleged that fellow Baby Show speaker Alison Scott-Wright's discussion on reflux was unacceptable to the point of danger. Tantum's post on the BabyCalm website called in to question Scott-Wright's credentials and opinions stating that she "has no right to be called an expert, especially in reflux, she has no qualifications medically and non medically. She stood on stage and told a lady to stop the medication she was giving her daughter. No-one should be telling the mother that except her GP/paediatrician."
Breastfeeding was another area in which those with the relevant qualifications found occasion to be anxious about the choice of expert. Clare Byam-Cook is a former, experienced midwife but with no known additional training in the infant feeding area. She freely admits that to UNICEF and all the major breastfeeding organisations. On hearing reports of her Baby Show talk the RCM went on to state that Byam-Cook shows a "total ignorance of breastfeeding principles. Breastmilk is produced on demand and every mother and baby are a unique pair. In the vast majority of situations an exclusively breastfeeding mother will produce the exact amount her baby needs."
When a wealth of research, information, support and highly qualified experts abound, it is hard not to see The Baby Show's choice of speakers as another victory for cash at all costs. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Charlie from Milk Matters felt that "one can only speculate why a baby event would be reluctant to present such [an appropriately qualified] person" and that at future events she "would like to see a specialist who was also IBCLC accredited as breastfeeding is a pretty sound science."
The RCM also suggests The Baby Show changes its outlook and approach as "these shows have an ethical responsibility to ensure they seek experts who give advice based on proper evidence, knowledge, experience and understanding. A lot of people believe they can give advice but it isn't regulated and unscrupulous people have the audacity to play on women's vulnerability at this time. This is at best thoughtless and at worst dangerous to mother and child."
But with the growing awareness of Clarion Event's expanding arms-related earnings it is hard to imagine the RCM's preferred breastfeeding organisation, Best Beginnings, leaping at the chance to appear at a future show. As the more ethically-minded speakers, companies and sponsors step away from the Baby Show its potential to confuse and even endanger the 80,000 annual attendees and their offspring can only continue to grow.
For moral and commercial reasons it must be a matter of time before the Baby Show has to part company with the rest of Clarion's portfolio or wait as the public and businesses vote with their feet.