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'the politics of breastfeedin' - Gabrielle Palmer

(63 Posts)
Annpan88 Fri 30-Dec-11 15:51:32

I was wondering is anyone had read this? I'm only up to about page 15 and am finding it so interesting.

I think breastfeeding aside its a really interesting text on women in society and the trappings of a male dominated world.

Would really love to hear other peoples opinions

Thanks smile

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 21:10:10

The problems that I raised in the BF session were things that my friends had had trouble with - I just said that all of my friends had experienced difficulties of one type or another - from cracked nipples to mastitis - and was there anything that we could do to help avoid things like that. I was told that these things are very rare indeed and that it was impossible that all of my friends had had trouble with BF.

Which left me confused and pissed off, frankly.

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 21:12:33

My thoughts weren't rigidly fixed on labour and nor were the thoughts of the other women. I find assumptions like that really strange. I was told repeatedly by ante-natal leaders that they wouldn't talk about x, y or z (basically anything I asked them) as people weren't interested and only wanted to talk about the birth. But talking to the people on the course (both courses) that was not the case. But they simply wouldn't answer questions - NCT or NHS. I found it peculiar and unhelpful.

hazchem Tue 03-Jan-12 23:15:59

annpan I'm reading this at the moment (in fact came on here to think about starting a thread about it!)

As with so many things it's following the "money trail" that is interesting.

I'm also enjoying the section on sexuality. particularly because it's something I'm struggling with.

The thing I am finding hardest is how do I balance my knowledge about breastfeeding in a personal context. How do talk positively about breastfeeding without offending formula feeders? (actually do people who formula feed worry about offending breastfeeders?)

MillyR Wed 04-Jan-12 00:21:27

I read it when I was breast feeding my first child, so 13 years ago, and really enjoyed the book.

The thing about breast feeding is that while I understand that it is an important health issues and so on, that isn't my main feeling about it. And like Hazchem, I worry about offending formula feeders so don't generally talk about it. I find that rather sad, because I absolutely loved breast feeding and fed my second child for over two years. It is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. To have not breast fed would, to me, be like never having laughed or never having run.

And I feel that we can't talk about it in that context. It has become a rather clinical topic with the constant talk of health benefits, almost as if it is like sterilising a bottle. We can't have conversations where we talk about it having fantastic elements to it (for some people) and horrible elements to it (for some people). I both loved it and had mastitis twice, which I hated. Breast feeding is a unique thing for the body to go through, but it is generally discussed in a very narrow health context.

Annpan88 Wed 04-Jan-12 09:10:56

I personally am loving breast feeding. I don't agree with the argument that its oppressive. I think its a remarkable gift that women have to create and sustain life.

I found it interesting in the book how women in papa new guinea couldn't understand breast feeding problems, as if to say its only in the west we have problems. Before I gave birth I was very naïve and assume breast feeding was easy. I had lots of problems and I cant say I think they stem from negative breast feeding messages. It could be argued though that as I wasn't really exposed to people feeding before I had not point of rerence.

hazchem Wed 04-Jan-12 22:36:30

I'm still reading but think I must be very lucky. Lots of the things that help normalise breastfeeding in traditional societies has occurred naturally in my life.
Including seeing woman breastfeed, having a female relative attend me after the birth and then spending several months rooming in at my parents.

I certainly don't feel it is oppressive. Interestingly i have been trying to look at work that i could do from home in a really flexible way and this appears to have been how things were done in working class homes so woman could continue to breastfeed.

One thing I have been wondering is about the effectiveness of breastfeeding as contraception. I clearly remember the midwives repeating that breastfeeding is not an effective contraceptive. However it seams like it might be

BranchingOut Wed 04-Jan-12 23:03:48

I think I have posted this on the feminism section before, but it was as if becoming a mother and breastfeeding awaked a huge feminine side of me that had been slightly dormant before.

A few days after giving birth I remember looking at my postnatal body in the mirror (clothed) and thinking how amazing it was. I could grow a baby and then I could make this beautiful, sweet food to feed him! All by myself! I was a woman and I didn't give a damnn about anything else.

My main reaction to reading the Politics of Breastfeeding is one of anger. Anger that so many women who wanted to breastfeed have had the opportunity to do this taken way from them by ignorance in HCPs, by social pressures and most of all by commercial influences.

I feel hugely angry when I think of the actions of the formula companies in the UK and incandescently angry when I think of the actions of formula companies in the developing world. Infant ill health and risk of death is what it comes down to, at the end of the day.

It isn't a historical issue. Look at this from last year.

And most of the people who are trying to support women to breastfeed in the uk? Volunteers. Unpaid mothers. I am one of them, but do I have issues with unpaid women doing what the medical and midwifery establishment has failed to do! I think that breastfeeding and support for breastfeeding is a feminist issue if there ever was one.

betternextlife Wed 04-Jan-12 23:40:59

I BF mine because I wanted too and luckily I did not experience too many problems. There is not enough support for women who want to breastfeed and barriers within current cultural context.

But what I resent deeply is that instead of offering proper support to women in both breast and bottle feeding they just try to make women feel 'bad mothers' for not breastfeeding.

Forcing women to breastfeed in 'baby-friendly' hospitals removes women's right to excercise choice over their bodies.

hazchem Thu 05-Jan-12 21:24:03

While I fully believe that woman should have the right to choose it should be informed. The risks in formula feeding need to be explained.

I've been surprised, while reading the book, that the risks of formula feeding are really quite clear but they are just not talked about. while i had been aware of risk i had assumed that these mainly related to developing countries where poor sanitation and lack of money meant formula is dangerous. I'm shocked that babies in developed countries die because they are not breastfeed.

betternextlife Thu 05-Jan-12 23:29:25

I found that teh book exaggerated the risks of bottle-feeding and over-looked the fact that if formula wasn't avialable then babies who could not breastfeed would die.

It is simply not true that all women can produce enough milk, I have worked with a number of women whose babies were deteriortaing because of a lack of breastmilk.

SardineQueen Sat 07-Jan-12 14:37:50

There is also the issue of dehydration in babies who are being BF but not getting enough for whatever reason - babies are admitted to hospital every year for this reason. There was a study a year or 2 ago which looked at the numbers but a lot of people said it shouldn't be publicised as it might put women off BF.

I think that there is a lack of proper neutral information and support unfortunately and that there are problems across the piece.

MuslinSuit Sat 07-Jan-12 15:06:27

Marking place smile

SQ I appreciate your posts about how difficult and far removed from any cosy notions of motherhood the first few months can be! <gazes fondly and slightly claustrophobically at gorgeous boy>

I have left the house precisely 3 times in as many weeks since the birth, house is a bombsite and I have washed my hair for the first time in god knows how long today - am too scared to blow-dry it in case babe wakes for his feed.

Oh and I'm formula feeding. I had a traumatic birth, a CS with numerous complications leaving me in a lot of pain, doped up with morphine. I intended to exclusively bf, had attended the NCT classes, and had the view that it would all be instinctive and lovely. And it was, in recovery after the operation, and straight away in the ward. But then the pain kicked in, and with drugs, drips, catheters, blood drains hanging off me and being flat on my back, I struggled to hold him in a good position to bf, despite being confident and happy to persevere, cuddle and bond. After a couple of lonely nights of agony and various HCAs and midwives being less than supportive, the breastfeeding 'counsellor' reduced me to hyperventilating and a panic attack by shoving babe on to my boob despite my continual protests that I wanted to do it myself and for her to just give tips on positioning. Latch wasn't a problem, nor was the slight pain of latching on, but she kept banging on about it and when I was crying out in pain from my wounds on my tum, she actually said to my DH 'does she really want to breastfeed, she doesn't seem to want to' angry

I was advised to give formula after that (of and told that I was being referred to the HV for 'enhanced post-natal care' ie 'you're failing as a mum and you haven't even left the hospital yet) and I didn't even try to bf again after my panic attack.

I wish I'd been told just how difficult bf after a traumatic c-section can be, and given sensitive support. The bf counsellor seemed oblivious to the pain I was in, and to the fact that I was high as a kite from morphine.

It has been great for DH to be able to share the load though. Now that I've had my rant about lack of support post-natally blush , I might be able to make more measured contributions to the thread re the positives of formula (of which there are clearly many, from a practical and feminist pov)

MuslinSuit Sat 07-Jan-12 15:06:53

Oops sorry for massive rant! <ishoos>

SardineQueen Sat 07-Jan-12 15:33:19

This is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

The support post-natally just isn't there but it is expensive. The cheaper option is to tell women they ought to BF and then leave them to get on with it. I think it is terrible that the current advice is basically guilt inducing but due to poor support the guilt for many women is almost inevitable. Society and lack of funding means women are in many cases set up to fail.


Congratulations on your little boy smile I hope your recovery is speedy, take care of yourself, and don't try to do too much. Everything apart from looking after your little family unit's immediate needs can wait smile

philbee Sat 07-Jan-12 17:25:14

hazchem - what are the risks of bottle feeding in the west?

hazchem Mon 09-Jan-12 22:55:49

philbee They are the same as the are in developing world.
For instance 720 babies (under 12 months old) die in america each year because they are not breastfeed (i'm quoting Politics of breastfeeding here and have recently seen higher figures )
other risks include diarrhoea and respiratory infection
increased risk of meningitis and other infections
increased risk of SIDS
increased risk of diabetes
There are more but i'm not sure its that helpful. Oh and as a side note am I posting this to make anyone feel guilty about formula feeding as i do understand that it lifesaving and needed.
I do however think there need to be much tighter regulation on formula companies.
I think breastfeeding should be seen as a valuable contribution to society .

hazchem Mon 09-Jan-12 23:01:47

Shit just realised it should read I am NOT posting this to make anyone feel guilty. I must use the preview button! Sorry

pickledparsnip Tue 10-Jan-12 01:16:38

I think it's fantastic, a very important book. Personally I have found breastfeeding a very empowering experience. Despite serious difficulties getting breastfeeding established (baby lost nearly 20% of birthweight, week in neo natal followed, serious feelings of guilt) I am breastfeeding my son over 2 years later. The advice I received whilst in hospital was bloody awful, truly crap. All I heard was "You can't make him", "Some babies just won't feed, just give him a bottle, it's ok." Not remotely helpful. The pro breastfeeding posters were up everywhere, but the support wasn't. Thanks God for this one nurse who was evangelical about breastfeeding, and just simply 'popped' him on my breast for our first successful breastfeed at 12 days old. I will be eternally grateful to that woman.

I feel so angry that so many women don't receive the correct advice and support. I am angry that breastfeeding isn't seen as the norm, and I am fucking furious with the formula companies. So many of my friends tried to breastfeed, but through crap support did not manage to continue past the first few days/week.

Like BranchingOut, I was amazed (and still am) that my body carried a child, gave birth, and then managed to feed him too. Women are fucking amazing.

Mostlymum Tue 10-Jan-12 01:52:53

WOW SardineQueen I found myself nodding in agreement with so many of your posts.

I was very pro-breastfeeding, before I started......I assumed like many that I had the equipment and my baby had a mouth, and so it was straightforward ....How wrong was I?

I found LLL, NHS local helplines, MW and HV all pretty unhelpful - they did try but I felt under incredible pressure to BF exclusively (I had twins, one who got the hang of it and one who just simply could not/ would not open mouth). Docs on ward tried to medicalise it as low blood sugar or tongue tie.

I was so desperate at 5 days that my DS had not had enough to eat/drink and had bone dry nappies for all that time, yet when I asked what to do I was told to persevere. I began to hate BF so much.

Lol! my last job at work prior to Mat Leave had been to ensure everything was in place for a BF support person for my local NHS.

I did feel cheated, BF was far from the rosy ideal painted in ANC, if I did not have such a a) strong grip on the benefits of BF b) shame at going back to work and saying I had failed I would have given up, but boy was I miserable and angry and resentful.

Worst of all when I was readmitted to hospital I was prevented from BF 24 hrs because I needed some sort of radioactive scan, could not get a breast pump in time to offload the amount I needed for 2 in 24hours, no one seemed able to advise me how much anyway, and when I asked for help about formula feeding so as to feed my little uns for that 24 hrs was told point blank by a MW that she could not tell me as it breached her ethical guidelines. shock

Luckily the formula tins tell you what to do, so it was mad dash to supermarket and rapid purchase of bottles, sterilizers the works, and so my DS&DD were introduced to Formula and I felt upset and unsupported.

While flashing blue lights to hospital 5 days post birth and the disruption that brings could not be accounted for in ANC, I do think that if I had more realistic knowledge of the possible problems I would have been more prepared.

I look back to those first few months until DS proved the MW, BF support, and all the diagrams WRONG by latching on in his own unique way as a wash of sour milky smells, loads of day time TV,soreness and the sound of a child crying for a feed.

I kept on till they were 17 months. Mixed as they never got weaned off formula after the hospital saga, as much as I tried.

Would I do it again??? I would like to think yes but honestly unsure.

Finally best support I got was off Google, just looking for answers

InMyChime Tue 10-Jan-12 02:31:15

I have to second everything you say, SardineQueen: the reason that more women don't breastfeed is not because of brainwashing by the patriarchy and the evil formula companies. It's because breastfeeding is bloody difficult! And the support is just not always there.

The NCT was similarly unhelpful for me when we had our breastfeeding session as part of their ante-natal classes. The bf counsellor giving the class just claimed that bf is 'natural' and the baby will just find the nipple and feed himself if you leave him on your chest, skin-to-skin. Will he bollix. Possibly at 6 weeks old when he's been trained to breastfeed already but not as a newborn! When I asked questions about pain, cracked nipples etc, I was simply told that if it hurts, you're doing it wrong. Every piece of information I got about bf-ing from NCT, NHS etc was an absolute lie. That was one of the main reasons I gave up too soon on bf-ing with my DS because I thought 'my god, I'm obviously crap at this and it's just not working out'. WHen I spoke to other women later, they all had had some similar issues with bf-ing, not quite as many issues as me but some. Bf-ing has to be learned by mother and baby and, yes, it maybe easy and natural in Papua New Guinea but we don't live in that kind of society and haven't for centuries now.

I think, as you say SQ, there is pressure from public health organisations not to ever say anything even slightly negative about bf-ing in case the little ladies get scared. They can't admit that bf-ing is anything other than natural and easy and simple because otherwise they feel they're endorsing formula. Honesty about problems and solutions would be more effective.

Mostlymum Tue 10-Jan-12 14:32:41

So true Chime

I am now half way through the book and really enjoying it.

I have had problems with both my sons breastfeeding, one of which wasn't solved and the other was, only after I banged on some tables and insisted on seeing someone.

I agree BFing is difficult, however, I think one of the mesages from the book is that it has been made far more difficult than it needs to be because of how it was (and still is) taken over by the men who thought women couldn't possibly know what was best. This has had a massive knock-on affect in the western world and a lot of word of mouth knowledge has been lost as a result. Advice that would have been passed from mother to daughter; aunt to niece; sister to sister etc just isn't there. In addition society isn't set up for bfing. Women don't walk around with babies latched on or breasts out, because they are seen as sexual organs, not feeding organs.

Taking a couple of examples. Above a couple of people mentioned about dehydrations/not enough milk. I really get the impression from the book that problems like this are, in the main, down to the way we breastfeed in the western world. Babies do not have unlimited access to the breast, for various reasons. Palmer described women in other countries who were feeding every half hour even through the night while asleep. That isn't mentioned in any ante-natal class I went to. In fact co-sleeping is positively discouraged.

Another example is the medicalisation of birth which causes knock-on affects for breast-feeding. I had an epi and forceps delivery for DS1. He wouldn't latch on, had a hypoglycaemic fit and we were separated for a week. At no point was skin-to-skin suggested or promoted as a real way to try and get him to latch on. Another suggestion I have heard since those dark days was a deep bath with the baby (which worked when I was having problems with DS2 latching on). I was basically told that I had missed the window of opportunity to get him to latch on - he was less than 2 weeks old at this stage. This was a LIE. Kangaroo care would probably have been the way to go.

It is all about support. It isn't there. If breastfeeding hadn't been mucked around with in the first place, then this support wouldn't be needed, it would already be there in the form of relatives, friends, neighbours etc. If we invest in support now, then a generation or two down the line will have the knowledge and support already there and available within the women they know. The longer we delay in providing this support then, exponentially, the longer this problem will exist.

InMyChime - I don't think women have been brainwashed by the patriarchy as such, but the patriarchy have made it more and more difficult to breastfeed in this society. That is really the crux of the matter. Formula companies have capitalised on that.

BranchingOut Tue 10-Jan-12 14:40:20

I urge any woman on this thread who has bf and feels strongly about this issue to train as a peer supporter. It is hugely rewarding and you can do it via the BfN, the NCT, LLL and Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. The training I have received from BfN has been very high quality and has opened up avenues for me in my working life. Contact your local infant feeding coordinator via your local authority website, hospital or midwife and they should point you in the right direction.

BranchingOut Tue 10-Jan-12 14:42:42

To add, I think you can also do it if you have ff due to lack of bf support and feel strongly about this issue!

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