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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

That first sentence should say bfing not bring.

Finished the book and really enjoyed it. It got me so angry about how bring has completely been taken away from women by men because they thought they knew better. How many women and children have died because of this. Millions, literally. The "Maternity Letters" bit made me want to weep for those women.

I liked how it also delved into other aspects of having children such as giving birth, recovery from birth, childcare and working and breast feeding (and here I have to disagree with SQ in that I think we have been socially conditioned to not accept bfing in the workplace. If the whole working system was overhauled from a female perspective then breastfeeding and working would be much more normal and preferable).

I did think that Palmer minimised a bit the problems women in the Western world experience and painted more traditional communities as idyllic. Women are having real problems, they aren't imaginary. For example she barely mentioned tongue-tie which causes a mass of issues, pain included, and is under-diagnosed in this country. I did agree though that the way we give birth, the way we recover and the lack of ongoing support and BF structure in our society all lead to breast feeding issues.

I agree with you Annpan that extended bfing makes so much sense now and I would never have considered it before.

ClothesOfSand Wed 18-Jan-12 00:12:48

Muslinsuit, I breastfed two babies and I really don't feel that I have made any kind of sacrifice or that FF would have been an easier option. Like most things in life, some people find one way easier and others find another way easier.

I don't think breastfeeding mums are more likely to make eye contact. Yes, it is time consuming to breast feed, but I spent a lot of the time reading books or the paper, as I didn't at the time know about the eye contact thing! Certainly beyond a certain age, the baby breastfeeds itself at night, so I wasn't even awake when that was going on.

And I can't really be bothered with all that washing of bottles and heating of milk. I did express some milk, and did find it a bit of a hassle with all the sterilising and heating and so on.

When you get on to extended breastfeeding, the amount of time you spend doing it each day is tiny compared to how much you'd spend feeding a newborn. By 2 it might just be one feed when the mother gets in from work or when the child gets in from playgroup.

And I enjoyed breast feeding. It was no more of a sacrifice than being asked to eat chocolate every day. Of course some days I'd rather not, but overall I found it very enjoyable.

So I don't think it is a self sacrifice for women who it worked out well for. FF and BF is perhaps like some people playing the violin and some playing the guitar - not harder or easier, just different and suit different people.

Annpan88 Sat 14-Jan-12 16:02:24

Really good to hear points from mothers who ff.

I'm reading this book at a really interesting time, not only because I'm bfing, but because the birth of my son has really made me rethink a lot of things. For example, I don't think I ever truely respected the role of a mother (didn't disrespect it, just thought 'have baby, then go back to work after 6 months) and I never thought I'd even consider extended breast feeding, but now it just makes so much sense.

HoleyGhost Wed 11-Jan-12 12:52:49

That is a lovely post MuslinSuit. I managed to breastfeed my dd for over two years, and I still wish I had set out to formula feed.

Breastfeeding is wonderful when it works out, formula is also excellent, nobody should be brow beaten about their choice.

Mostlymum Wed 11-Jan-12 00:35:22

I find it very odd that breasts are seen as sexual organs, but then I spent my teens in rural Africa were breasts were predominantly stuck in babies mouths.
It really was a shock, I recall the instant someone told me they would have a problem breastfeeding cos of sex. I was like what? There was a very interesting documentary looking a young women's attitudes so I have got my head around it better. ie understand why, but don't have the view myself.

I did better at bf when I got home, I just lay on my bed and kept my babies very close, it was claustrophobic but I was determined to succeed which is also why I never went out for 3 months - except brief visit to hospital.

I used to keep a diary of feeds as I was so sleepy, each twin, latch on, off, and duration of feed per day at the end, just so I knew who had what as I was so exhausted I really did not know which nappy had been changed etc.

The upside for me was I was on Mat Leave, DH knew his way around a cooker and vacuum cleaner, I did not do anything except BF one child, and struggle to BF the other.

The women in Africa that I had seen somehow managed to feed their children, get firewood, fetch water, go to market.......

no particular point I am trying to make, odd jumble of thoughts, memories. BF is complex and wonderful, and rewarding and hard too. If I had only my expert intuitive bf child(DD) I would not have realised all this. If I had only my "er mum what are you trying to do to me with THAT Aaaaargh" child DS, I may well have given up in the first week no matter my convictions. DD taught me that I should not blame myself I wasn't a failure. DS to keep trying and not everything you were taught to expect is right.

MuslinSuit Wed 11-Jan-12 00:09:09

I wanted to bf and intended to bf. It was a logical decision - natural, free, bonding with baby. Also if I'm honest, a smidgen of wanting to be a 'real mother' after having a c-section so not going through labour.

But postnatal support issues aside: now that I am ff, I know logically that it is a bit of a faff sterilising and making up bottles, but that DS is thriving and will continue to thrive. It's no small thing for me as an adult, a feminist, an independent person and someone who likes to low-carb diet when I want to be lean, to drink alcohol to relax, as someone who wants to look good in a bikini, that ff is not at all a bad thing (I hesitate to say choice, because it wasn't really one). Most of all, my DH having a wonderful 5 weeks of paternity leave at full pay, he has taken as full a nurturing role as I have with our son, allowing me to recover and rest, not be overwhelmed and have lots of lovely bonding time with our son.

People who want to bf should be helped, not coerced or made to feel guilty. Ff isn't evil, the companies may well be but it's hardly heroin. It's removed a painful, difficult and incredibly demanding part of being a mother and made it into an equal opportunity role for both parents in my relationship at least. As a very new mum, the shock of having this beautiful little creature reliant on me for everything is a shock - feeding takes about 45 mins every 3 hours. I can't even begin to imagine what this would all be like if I was breastfeeding too. I have massive respect for women who do - not because they are somehow magical or superhuman, or achieved something great, but because they have actively chosen such a huge self-sacrifice for the benefit it has to their baby, when they have another, far far easier option which I pragmatically fail to see as a lesser option healthwise, and I am trying to make it a bonding experience by maintaining skin-to-skin and eye contact during feeds - these things aren't exclusive to bfers.

Just my thoughts smile

hazchem Tue 10-Jan-12 18:01:36

This thread is raising some really interesting questions.

The big one I see is how do you offer good quality and timely support and encouragement without coercing woman to breastfeed? How can formula feeding be an option while not undermining breastfeeding?

As I was reading the book I did think i would get to the last chapter and have a bit of blue print for how to make things better. What to ask for? what to rage at?

astreetcarnamedknackered Tue 10-Jan-12 16:17:00

Sorry branching: Out not our.....

astreetcarnamedknackered Tue 10-Jan-12 16:16:31

What branching our said!

MuslinSuit Tue 10-Jan-12 16:14:30

I would say that the breast-feeding counsellor in the hospital was not v sensitive at all, and showed no awareness of the pain I was in post-c-section, blaming my lack of commitment to bfing instead for my tears. If she'd been trained properly she could have helped me better. Also she came to see me about 30 mins after my morphine injection which meant I was high as a kite, which caused me to hyperventilate when I got stressed. I agree with the poster who said they concentrate on banging on about bfing and how important it is, but by not providing proper help to new mums they make you feel like a failure. I'm not a failure for ffing, and my baby is beautiful and healthy and my DH is taking an equal role in his feeding and nurturing from day one.

BranchingOut - I definitely want to do that! Thanks for the pointers.

HoleyGhost Tue 10-Jan-12 15:01:06

I agree with Sardine Queen's excellent posts.

There is some weird "breastfeeding is natural" notion, which seems to mean that sod all support is given to women, and the problems that we have are not taken seriously. Even 60 years ago, when breastfeeding was the norm, women were accustomed to seeing it done, and usually had extended family support - breastfeeding often failed, or so my Grandmother tells me. It is utterly marvellous that we have formula as an alternative, and don't have to try and make our own.

The risks of formula are minimal here in the UK, and so the benefits of breastfeeding are wildly exaggerated. It all adds to the pressure put on women at the most vulnerable time of our lives. Antenatally, I got lots of leaflets, a dvd, a whole antenatal class of breastfeeding propaganda - and none of it covered common problems like thrush. I memorised the positions but still could not get my baby to latch on. Hospital staff were worse than useless.

They have chosen to devote so much money and midwives' time to pressuring women antenatally, but very little to breastfeeding support. That says a lot about the respect they have for women and our ability to make informed decisions.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

So true Chime

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 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

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.

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

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 .

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

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

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

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