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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

everydayisabluesday Fri 30-Dec-11 17:55:50

I've read it and her arguements are very strong in relation to the health of women and children in developing countries, where access to clean water and reliable formula is scarce.

But the evidence of the health benefits of breastfeeding in the west in relation to health is very weak, I feel. The pro-breastfeeding lobby, I feel, is as manipulative and powerful as the big businesses she is argueing against.

When you have finished, I would recommend Joan Wolf's book 'Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood' if you want to look examine other aspect of the issues.

EdlessAllenPoe Fri 30-Dec-11 18:01:43

"The pro-breastfeeding lobby, I feel, is as manipulative and powerful as the big businesses she is argueing against"

pro breast feeding - the nHS, NCT, LLL, other charities

pro formula - nestle, cow and gate, SMA ...

not for profit vs profit-making enterprise.

the formula manufacturers marketing budget dwarfs the NHS pro-bf promotion budget. so is not nearly as powerful. Aptamil has a side-ad on my facebook, notably the NHS doesn't....

i really couldn't disagree more strongly to this assertion. what is the factual basis?

SardineQueen Fri 30-Dec-11 18:19:16

A lot of interesting views on breastfeeding out there. There was a french woman recently who said that breastfeeding is oppressive to women, that caused quite a furore. Can't remember the details though, sorry.

I have not read either of the books here but have my own experiences in the UK and also have had some lively (ahem) debates on here.

My feeling is that the BF message in the UK is in real danger of being counter-productive. Personally I just wanted people to STFU about it and answer my actual questions about how to make it work - but they wouldn't. I had a rather difficult time at an NCT BF class with it all. Anyway. I might just offload here as I am a bit bored.

I get annoyed with the assertions from the pro-BF types that women need to have it shoved in their face every 5 mins because the ignoramuses just don't understand what they are supposed to do. The statistics do not bear this out. The vast majority of women in the UK aim to BF and start out trying to BF. The next thing that gets on my tits (HA!) is the way the exclusive BF stats are wheeled out to show that UK women are useless and they all give up on it. When in fact the stats for any BF are very different. Time and time again I link to the stats for any BF which actually show a much rosier picture. Yet they are ignored. Why?

Well I did ask the question once and pointed out that the exclusive stats will exclude women whose baby had eg one sip of formula once in hosp and then went on to be exclusively BF for 2 years. I was then told that if a baby has had even a sip it's gut will be damaged and that's why the exclusive stats are used.


And that's where it falls down for me. The very strongly pro camp sets the bar too high. The message is it's all or nothing.

Whereas the reality is that the message is out there - the vast majority of women set out to BF. Many more than we are led to believe on these pages actually keep it up. The ones who fail usually do so because of poor support with BF post-natally. But the message I read on here so often is that women need to be told even more about the benefits of BF and the post-natal support point is overlooked because the pessimistic stats are being looked at.

Sorry that was a bit of a stream of consciousness.

everydayisabluesday Fri 30-Dec-11 19:58:29

BF is emotive and now political to the detriment of women IMO. Women in the west should be free to chose or not to breastfeed and not feel pressurised in their decision by anyone.

The stats on the health benefits of breastfeeding often orginiate from the WHO, nothing wrong in that. But they include women from all parts of the world, and are applied to all. If you look for reliable data on the benefits of breastfeeding in the west, the data is not very strong.

The majorty of the population in the UK were not exclusively breastfed. It was rare until 20 years ok, and before then it was demonised by health professionals as backwards and dangerous! The complete reversal of opinion says a lot about a powerful BFeeding lobby (who have made importnat gains for women) but at the cost of women's choice again IMO.

Greythorne Fri 30-Dec-11 20:16:58


You may be thinking of Elisabeth Badinter. She is a French philiosopher and heiress to an advertising company and fortune (Publicis).

I found her breastfeeding argument completely risible. Especially when you learn that she is on the board of Publicis who have SMA and Nestlé as clients. Coincidentally (not!) they also have P and G as a client and she also laid ito the cloth nappy concept as it keeps women chained to the kitchen sink and disposables are so much....well, better.

She is a disgrace to the name feminism and very divisive.

I downloaded this for the Kindle a couple of weeks ago but haven't read yet. My experiences of bfing match SQ's assessment. More post natal support is required and good support at that. And not only that it needs to be offered rather than the mother having to seek it out. The biggest problem is what to do and where to go to get answers when it goes wrong. Bfing can be very isolating when it goes wrong.

MN is a fantastic resource with so many knowledgeable people. One if things I have learnt from MN is that almost all Bf problems have solutions. It's just those HCPs you speak to in RL don't necessarily know the answers. So the knowledge is there, it just needs to be out there in RL too.

Beveridge Fri 30-Dec-11 21:37:44

I read PoB as an eyeopening case study of how capitalism actually works and how markets are created for things that we do not actually need. The fact that there is an 80% mark up on formula blew me away.

Annpan88 Sat 31-Dec-11 00:41:53

What I'm taking from it so far is the fact that breast feeding has been linked to the oppression of women. I really agreed that it was the fact that society is sort of based around men and therefore breastfeeding at work is a big no no.

I think it ties heavily into the 3rd wave/2nd wave feminism divide. Do women want to be the same as men or do we want to have our differences respected more by society as a whole?

SardineQueen Sat 31-Dec-11 11:06:52

Greythorne yes that sounds familiar. And I think President Sarkozy recently echoed her ideas which was a bit jaw-dropping coming from a head of state.

SardineQueen Sat 31-Dec-11 11:14:44

Annpan that is a wide and interesting question and you will get different answers from the people who post on this section as we have talked about it in the past a bit! I was surprised at how strongly people felt one way or another.

Reading what you wrote suddenly reminds me of a recent thread about "male brain female brain". I suppose the answer to your question "Do women want to be the same as men or do we want to have our differences respected more by society as a whole?" depends on how different you think men and women actually are.

Obviously biologically we are the ones doing the pregnancy, childbirth and potentially BF and society needs to support these very important roles, with financial and emotional support where required so that babies are born into as secure a situation as possible. After that, for me, is where I part ways with some others. The idea of having a workplace full of babies makes me feel quite twitchy. Quite apart from the difficulty of working, I don't really want to have babies all over the place! My DH and I are reversed to the usual situation where he likes nothing better than being covered in babies, while I spend most of my time plotting how to escape.... So a society set up to "allow" me to have babies all over me the whole time, at work, and fulfil my natural feminine nurturing role would end in me gibbering in a corner.

For me the solution is to be more child / family friendly across society, to make workplaces more flexible for everyone. That way people will be better able to organise their lives and family situations in ways that suit them as individuals. Rather than having to toe the line in a strict gender manner (as happens at the moment really) when it makes so many people unhappy,.

Himalaya Sun 01-Jan-12 22:49:35

I read it a long time ago (when I was breastfeeding...) I feel torn both ways - that women should be supported to breast feed for as long as they want, and that they should be able to give up whenever they want without heartache. Not sure that is possible with such an emotive topic though. choices are always hard when there are real pros and cons on both sides.

I agree SQ there should be no assumptions that all mums should want (or be pushed into) family friendly workplaces full of babies, and that dads dont.

I don't think there is any conflict between thinking there may be aggregate trends which differ between males and females accross the whole population (the brains question...) and thinking that individuals should be able to choose what works for them and not be forced into strict gender boxes.

i.e. respect for differences as individual human beings.

philbee Sun 01-Jan-12 22:52:35

I've not read the book, sorry. But breastfeeding does also mean that it's the mother who has to respond to the baby whenever it wakes up at night etc. I think formula is more egalitarian in that respect.

I personally found what pps said, that when DD was young there were a lot of pro-breastfeeding messages, but no proper detailed help when things were wrong. People just changed 'feed on demand, feed on demand' at me whenever she cried, and they had no ability to deal with even very common complications and problems. There was also a clear message that it was all or nothing, and lots of stuff about nipple confusion if the baby was bottle fed, which I think is really exaggerated and scaremongering. I think this is where it falls down for a lot of women, the support and understanding of how hard it is is just not there.

Beveridge Tue 03-Jan-12 00:19:02

But breastfeeding does also mean that it's the mother who has to respond to the baby whenever it wakes up at night etc. I think formula is more egalitarian in that respect.

True philbee but formula feeding also requires washing/sterilising of bottles as well as making up feeds - do you think these tasks are done as equally by fathers as mothers? Or does bottlefeeding actually create more work for mothers overall even if occasional feeds are given by fathers?

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 18:04:49

I do think that in our current society where women are increasingly expected to spring back to how they were before they got pregnancy, BF is a difficult thing.

In the olden days you had stuff in different cultures to do with having to lie in bed and have everyone look after you for a certain period of time after having a baby. I guess in those days (and I'm not sure which days or cultures I'm talking about here grin) women did more manual work generally and so really needed not to be going back to their normal lives for a while. But the current idea that after having a baby women should be out and about, glowing, with immaculate babies in lovely ironed clothes, the figure should revert to how it was before pregnancy with an elasticised "ping!" and basically life goes on as before but oh look! a lovely baby now as well.... I think that the reality of having a baby is for many women quite different and they feel that they are somehow not doing it as well as they should be - and BF can be very difficult to establish and is time consuming and in our culture it's quite a thing to start BF when out and about and... and ... and

So I think that on the whole, with society the way it is and the messages the way they are, for many women BF on top of everything else just feels too much on top of everything else, too restrictive.

I think we need as a society to loosen up on women who have recently had children, expectations at the moment (often ones that women put on themselves due to media influence) are just way too high and it causes all sorts of problems.

Stream of consciousness again, apols grin

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 03-Jan-12 18:09:36

I agree with OP. I'm saddened to think that bottle-feeding mothers might skip reading it when it has so much to offer women.

I love the version of feminism where women should be valued for being women rather than their ability to compete with men.

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 18:12:46

Not just the actual feeding - but your body does not go back to "normal" while you are BF, you aren't supposed to wear underwired bras, many women need to wear breastpads and leak a lot which can affect their sex life.... Speaking from experience here grin as someone who had to sleep on a towel even with breast pads in, it's all a bit smelly and leaky and soggy and I wouldn't blame anyone for deciding that actually they want to get back to normal.

And again, these are the sort of things that IME are simply not mentioned at ante-natal BF classes.

I really think that ante-natal classes (or the ones I went to) go too far in not mentioning any potential problems. They seem to think that women are feeble ickle things that will be scared off even trying if they thing it might be a bit hurty. When in fact if women know what can happen, then they are better prepared for the real life experience. Again, expectations are often too high - and in this case they are being set high by the people who are supposed to be promoting BF.

This is just such a wide subject I could ramble on for hours!

honisoit Tue 03-Jan-12 18:14:13

I read it about 20 years ago. I remember enjoying it and feeling empowered by it. There is another book of the same name which is also very good.

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 03-Jan-12 18:43:52

I don't think there is enough time to go into the details in classes, which is why leaflets are handed out with bfing helplines on.

Also, the 'Lobby' simply don't have enough volunteers/resources to make sure that women DO know what it is like. There is no secret, but the information and availability of quality information-givers is just not there. So women can only get a basic understanding which is based on the physiology and the benefits rather than the complexity of competing cultural expecations and undoing the years of damage caused by the increasingly clever advertising of the formula companies.

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 18:58:32

All I know is that when I asked specific questions about problems my friends had with BF, in order to avoid them myself, I was given an absolutely awful response. This was in a BF class with the NHS. My questions were not answered on the NHS ante-natal course either.

I have never seen leaflets giving information about potential problems either. In fact I don't recall being given leaflets in the classes or informed about helplines. There were some leaflets in the "oh look you're pregnant here's your NHS pack with your book in it" thing but I don't remember what they were.

SardineQueen Tue 03-Jan-12 18:59:23

Sorry the awful response was NCT that should say, but NHS wouldn't answer either.

My sense was that they simply did not want to even mention anything negative to do with BF.

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 03-Jan-12 20:24:44

I think one of the issues is that many of the 'problems' have cultural and political routes.

It is a 'problem' in this country that the baby feeds every hour during the night which takes it's toll on a mother who is expected to be up, dressed and greeting guests in a house with a clean bathroom by 8:30am.

In countries where breastfeeding is more prominent and the babies are held close and co-slept with, they feed for an average of every 24 minutes day and night and yet the mothers have no 'problem' with this. Neighbours clean her house and cook for her etc.

It is a 'problem' that we are so competitive that maternity leave is used by some to retrain, do an MBA or if not the mother feels depressed for 'doing nothing' in her 'time off' and puts pressure on herself to achieve other things which mean sleeping in the day is forbidden, as is an untidy house etc.

Paid maternity leave is only for 6 months and not at full salary which puts pressure on women to think about bottles.

Friends that live within the same culture expect the woman to continue with social life outside the home etc.

It is very very complicated.

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 03-Jan-12 20:25:14

roots, not routes.

StarlightMcKenzie Tue 03-Jan-12 20:26:43

And also a lot of 'problems' are not problems per se with bfing, but with expectations. It is very hard to prepare a woman for a baby she has not had, especially in the run up to the birth where her thoughts are pretty much rigidly fixed on labour.

moondog Tue 03-Jan-12 20:26:50

It's an amazing book Annpan, and although I come from a family of breastfeeders, with a very positive attitude to it, I can tell you that it really changed my life.

It's one of the five most important books I have ever read.

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