My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In a culture where breast feeding is almost universally touted as the cure for everything from low IQs to allergies to breast cancer, Linda Blum provides a much needed critical voice into the discussion of breast feeding in the United States. She begins by placing the current public health campaign to increase breast feeding in the United States within a historical context that has seen a variety of infant feeding practices receive medical endorsement. Unlike most of the literature on breastfeeding, which centers around the infant, At the Breast focuses on breast feeding from women’s points of view. While she does not contest the validity of medical research that demonstrates health benefits of breast feeding, she locates that research within raced, gendered, and classed ideologies. Blum did research with the mostly white middle class mothers of Le Leche League who have been a driving force behind the breast feeding movement, with white working class mothers who generally wish to breast feed their babies but are often unable to do so due to a lack of support, and with working class African American Women who tend to reject breast feeding in favor of infant feeding strategies that are more compatible with the networks of female support women draw around themselves.
At the Breast is a vitally important book because it counters the prevailing belief that women who choose not to breast feed their babies simply aren’t educated about breast feeding’s benefits. Instead, women make decisions about how to feed their babies based on a number of factors. While breast feeding advocates will present breast feeding as a perfect solution–free, convenient, and healthy–Blum acknowledges the experiences of the women she interviewed that demonstrate that for women who cannot or choose not to live up to the ideal of the exclusive mother, the formula (provided free with WIC)that one’s mother, friend, or partner can feed the baby is a much more convenient and liberating choice.