How does one react to seeing a book cover that claims breast feeding is “big business and bad policy”?
If you’re me, you request a review copy of that book, fully intending to expose how wrong it is.
As a medical student, one of the important things I was taught again and again is this: BREAST IS BEST. We were given a nearly 100-page document to study about infant feeding during second year. We were expected to know the constituents of human milk and be able to compare it to cow’s milk and formula. We had to memorise tables of the various formulas on offer and their indications. In fourth year, an entire oral OSCE station was dedicated to breastfeeding.
Breast was best and formula-feeding was undesirable, and it all made perfect sense to me; and of course I never read up the literature because our professors had surely done that FOR us.
So I really expected to expose Lactivism by Courtney Jung as a sham, and I humbly admit that I cannot do that.
To begin with, the subtitle sounded so very defiant and angry, but from the beginning, Jung states that she is “not against breastfeeding” but “against lactivism.” Lactivism she defines as, “compulsory breastfeeding, breastfeeding as a moral crusade, and breastfeeding as a means of distinguishing good from bad parents.”
At this point I said, “YES BUT WE CRUSADE AGAINST PARENTS WHO WON’T VACCINATE BECAUSE IT’S BEST FOR BABY AND SOCIETY, SO WHY SHOULD BREASTFEEDING BE EXEMPT?” – but it was early in the book yet and I had much to learn.
What I love about Lactivism is that it is actually so calm. It is not biased. Every once in a while I asked myself where Jung STOOD, but the only place she STANDS is for freedom of choice.
This expose is not filled with emotion. Oh no: it is filled with painstaking research, and I can only imagine quite how much time that took. It is amazing how many of the facts that we are taught in medical school are either from small and obscure studies, or have been discredited, or were statistically insignificant.
It is also a little embarrassing how much what the medical field believes has been influenced by organisations like the La Leche League and not by evidence-based practice.
Jung does not only research extensively, she also interviews some of the most respected voices in the field of infant nutrition. Step by step she shows how human milk does not have ALL the benefits it is touted to have – and that while it does have some benefits, those are hardly enough to shame mothers who do not breastfeed.
She also gives a very compelling argument about how employment conditions for women affect breastfeeding rates and other aspects of parenting.
Although Lactivism does have an overarching American point of view, it remains fascinating and completely relevant to me as a healthcare worker. I would hope that many more healthcare workers will peruse it with an open mind.
I can’t convince you that the author is correct, but reading Lactivism was an invaluable learning experience for me: not only in the field of infant feeding, but in understanding medical research and the subtle biases of, and influences upon, the medical community, too.
I received an eARC of this book via NetGalley and Basic Books Group in exchange for an honest review.