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Review of The Politics of Breastfeeding

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I finally got ’round to finishing the last few pages of ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business’ by Gabrielle Palmer. I bought it months and months ago, but as it’s not what I would call a dip-in-and-out read, it was very hard to gather the time and concentration needed to read it.

First and foremost, let me say that this is not a book that should only be read by nursing mothers. I think it should, at the very least, be read by all women. It encompasses so much; from the beginnings of the end of breastfeeding in certain cultures and how it’s being turned around by proactive governments, how multinational companies market breastmilk substitutes to deliberately undermine breastfeeding relationships, doctors and health care professionals who would have us believe that breastmilk isn’t good enough and most importantly, a woman’s right to feed her baby as she chooses without pressure or unethical influences from corporate bodies.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I’ve talked before about Nestle’s marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and ‘third world’ countries; the undermining of women because we’re “not good enough”/”not reliable enough” to maintain life (and this goes hand in hand with the medicalisation of birth and unnecessary interventions, but is not a subject I know enough about to comment on); the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

The book is well written, and well referenced. The author, Gabrielle Palmer, is clearly passionate about her subject and not without credentials in the area (she was a breastfeeding counsellor in the 1970s and helped establish Baby Milk Action who are responsible for maintaining the Nestle boycott).

I have promised my copy to Hanna to read, but if anyone else is interested in reading this I would be happy to loan on its return. In the mean time, I recommend reading this extract (external). This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

Jem Turner +44(0)7521056376

11 comments so far

  1. Stephanie said:

    Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed a child. If it’s natural, it’s probably the best way to feed a child. Seems logical to me, as someone who’s studied biology in school, and just read the excerpt, but is far from becoming a mother.

    However, as an American who’s somewhat familiar with the way our government systems work, I will say that companies have probably too much power. The government assumes that the populace is informed and well-educated. But in truth, that’s not true at all (just look at YouTube comments and most of the right wing media, and some of the left wing media). People are easily swayed. Companies want people to spend money, they donate money to politicians to support their interests in their campaigns. Scandals of false advertising break out every year, when an informed consumer would have been able to avoid the hazards in the first place. So knowing my country, I am not surprised by the facts presented in the excerpt.

  2. Mumblies said:

    Somehow I think it’s a tad late for me to be reading it, but it does sound really interesting – might have a mooch through when you get it back.

  3. Meggan said:

    Somewhat unrelated, but still: Remind me sometime to post about my lactation consultant experiences in the hospital. You’d have a fit.

    I just read that whole Babble controversy and… blargh. One poster finally clarified my thoughts for me – it’s not formula-feeding that bothers me but the MARKETING thereof.

    I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy of this to read. Sounds very interesting.

  4. Luci said:

    I read it 3/4 months after the birth of my 2nd baby, and was glad that I’d eventually succeeded in not using formula/avoided top ups after the initial weeks, 2nd time around.

    I agree with everything you say about the book, and if others are wondering whether to read it, yes, I think you should.

  5. Nuwen said:

    Sounds like an interesting book. I wouldn’t say breastmilk is everything the infant needs since it does lack certain vitamins. However, it is an important source of immunity for the first 6 months.

  6. Jem said:

    The lack of vitamin D is down to a change in lifestyles; less time spent outdoors in the sun, the increased use of sun creams, more processed diets etc etc. It’s not a ‘fault’ with breast milk, because mothers who have sufficient vitamin D don’t lack it in their breast milk.

    Vitamin K is administered because it’s ‘low’ at birth, this is irrelevant of feeding method. But given that all babies have low vitK, and that breast milk is also low in vitK, one may theorise that hey.. maybe babies are *supposed* to have low vitK?

    The risk of babies developing the bleeding problem that necessitates the use of vitK is incredibly low; risk is lowest in non-interventional births (another reason to avoid that epidural – you’re statistically more likely to require ventouse, forceps or even c-sec). This is one aspect of childbirth that I think really is over-managed, especially given the possible link with vitK and childhood leukaemia (

    But what do I know? I’m not a med student.

  7. James said:

    i was never breast fed and i turned out al right :s lol. being a 21 year old guy im not the most knowledgeable on this topic … in the ‘feeding’ part of the breast discussion anyway :|

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