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Is Breast Best?

Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood

Joan B. Wolf
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Is Breast Best?
    Book Description:

    Since the invention of dextri-maltose and the subsequent rise of Similac in the early twentieth century, parents with access to clean drinking water have had a safe alternative to breast-milk. Use of formula spiked between the 1950s and 1970s, with some reports showing that nearly 75 percent of the population relied on commercial formula to at least supplement a breastfeeding routine. So how is it that most of those bottle-fed babies grew up to believe that breast, and only breast, is best?In Is Breast Best? Joan B. Wolf challenges the widespread belief that breastfeeding is medically superior to bottle-feeding. Despite the fact that breastfeeding has become the ultimate expression of maternal dedication, Wolf writes, the conviction that breastfeeding provides babies unique health benefits and that formula feeding is a risky substitute is unsubstantiated by the evidence. In accessible prose, Wolf argues that a public obsession with health and what she calls total motherhood has made breastfeeding a cause celebre, and that public discussions of breastfeeding say more about infatuation with personal responsibility and perfect mothering in America than they do about the concrete benefits of the breast.Why has breastfeeding re-asserted itself over the last twenty years, and why are the government, the scientific and medical communities, and so many mothers so invested in the idea? Parsing the rhetoric of expert advice, including the recent National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, and rigorously questioning the scientific evidence, Wolf uncovers a path by which a mother can feel informed and confident about how best to feed her thriving infant - whether flourishing by breast or by bottle.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9525-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface: Why Breastfeeding?
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. 1 Monitoring Mothers A Recent History of Following the Doctor’s Orders
    (pp. 1-20)

    EVEN BEFORE THE creation of powder formulas, infant feeding was a morally charged practice. In colonial and postrevolutionary America, for example, women who did not nurse their babies were often considered to be selfish and unpatriotic. Nonetheless, many women sought alternative forms of feeding. The demand for wet nurses, socially disadvantaged women who breastfed other women’s children, was constant, and human milk was among the most advertised commodities.¹ Some mothers, particularly in the middle class, found breastfeeding distasteful or immodest, while others found it exhausting. Scientists, doctors, and clergymen believed that breastfeeding was superior to bottle feeding, but they also...

  6. 2 The Science Does Breastfeeding Make Smarter, Happier, and Healthier Babies?
    (pp. 21-46)

    AT THE CORE of the “breast is best” message is the notion that breastfeeding—the substantive properties of breast milk, the interaction between breastfeeding mother and baby, or some combination of the two—is medically superior to bottle feeding for babies. That is, breastfed babies are physically, cognitively, and emotionally healthier than their bottle-fed counterparts, and their relative well-being can be attributed to one or various dimensions of the breastfeeding process. There is broad disagreement on the extent to which employers and public institutions should make accommodations for breastfeeding, and scientists have not established any consensus on the long-term health...

  7. 3 Minding Your Own (Risky) Business Health and Personal Responsibility
    (pp. 47-70)

    IN DECEMBER 2005, theNew York Timesran an op-ed piece in which writer Karen Karbo poked fun at HarperCollins, publisher of a new edition of the popular children’s bookGoodnight Moon, for digitally removing a cigarette from a photo of Clement Hurd, the illustrator. Alongside a redrawing of one of Hurd’s illustrations depicting the inside of Bunny’s house, Karbo pointed to other “potentially harmful” messages that HarperCollins had not addressed. “How long has this bowl full of mush been sitting here?” she queried. “A single drop of sour milk contains more than 50 million potentially fatal bacteria. At the...

  8. 4 From the Womb to the Breast Total Motherhood and Risk-Free Children
    (pp. 71-106)

    INFREE-RANGE KIDS: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry, humorist Lenore Skenazy offers parents an “Ato-Z Review of Everything You Might Be Worried About,” including “Animals, Being Eaten By”; “Death by Stroller”; “Eating Snow”; and “Walking to School (or at Least the Bus Stop).” Today’s parents, she writes, have lost all perspective on safety and danger, overanalyze the significance of everyday decisions, and ultimately can do more harm than good by neither teaching nor modeling good judgment for their children.¹ British sociologist Frank Furedi concurs, lamenting that parenting today “is not so much about...

  9. 5 Scaring Mothers The Government Campaign for Breastfeeding
    (pp. 107-138)

    IN 1984, THE U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) convened the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. Although just two years earlier, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had warned against “ignoring the complexity” of infant feeding and had argued that “inherent” differences between mothers who bottle-fed and breastfed made the effects of either method “extremely difficult” to ascertain,¹ the workshop was devoted in large part to promoting breastfeeding. The two-day meeting included only two presentations on breastfeeding science, “Human Lactation as a Physiologic Process” and “The Unique Values of Human Milk.” The latter, in repeatedly...

  10. 6 Conclusion Whither Breastfeeding?
    (pp. 139-152)

    FEW PEOPLE ARE against health. Or freedom. Or compassion. But when one person’s freedom to drive her car at any speed infringes on another’s freedom to travel safely, or when compassion for others leads to a loss of self, the merits of restriction and selfishness begin to emerge. Ostensibly unobjectionable ideals become controversial when advocates become myopic and lobby for their cause with a single-minded zeal that borders on monomania.

    Likewise, preventing risk, promoting health behavior, and providing for babies are, in theory, not terribly contentious agendas. They become problematic when proponents do not adequately consider the complex social environments...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-190)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-240)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 241-241)