Book Review – The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer

I have talked about 'The Politics of Breastfeeding' by Gabrielle Palmer a few times on my YouTube channel, including on my Top 5 breastfeeding books video and my Top 5 books video. That's because this book is just incredible!

When I had my eldest child (I've got three kids) in 2010 I really struggled with breastfeeding. I ended up in a pretty bad place and even when I'd resolved the issues I had breastfeeding I still felt confused about what I'd gone through. I couldn't make sense of why I'd been told breastfeeding was the way to go with feeding my son, but then I hadn't found any support around me. The 'fix' suggested for any issues I faced was to use formula, which was not what I personally wanted to do.

One night I was feeding my son in the rocking chair and browsing the internet for something to read about breastfeeding. I didn't want a 'how-to' book since we seemed to be getting on OK. I wanted something more social - maybe some stories or a historical perspective. I stumbled across 'The Politics of Breastfeeding' and the reviews looked good, so I bought a copy.

I read this book in a matter of days. I have never been so blown away by reading something as I was with this. The Politics of Breastfeeding goes from historical accounts of breastfeeding and tribal practices (since hunter-gatherer tribes are likely to have similar lifestyles in some ways to our ancestors) to the modern day. It talks about the political issues with wet-nursing - such as when women didn't care for their charges particularly well or when their own children had been separated from them. It then goes on to the advent of formula and the marketing tactics that have been used in the last 100 years or so.

Suddenly I understood how, despite the fact that we know that breastfeeding is the biological way for human babies to be fed, alternative feeding methods have impacted on the intricate dance that exists in a nursing relationship. The ubiquitousness of formula has disrupted the transmission of information from woman to woman, lines of communication that have been replaced by often misinformed professionals. I realised that breastfeeding was not a case of choosing how to feed your baby and getting on with it (how I wish it was!) but that it was an experience influenced and moulded by social perceptions, stigmas, commercial pressures, medical interventions, policy decisions, misinformation, stereotypes and prejudice. Who knew.

Reading this book made me feel so much better. It allowed me to lose the guilt I'd been struggling with. It also inspired me to take a more active role in breastfeeding support. But, a few nights after finishing reading it, I wrote the preface to my book, Milk.

I cannot easily express how much this book changed my life. I wish everybody read it to get an insight into the pressures put upon motherhood that go unseen. Even if you have nothing to do with the world of breastfeeding, seriously, this is a great book.

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