Before I start talking about this little book, it's worth quickly discussing what is meant by "the politics of breastfeeding:" we are not talking about the "mommy wars" here. This is not about how women chose to feed their baby, and the author defends Sheila Kitzinger's statement that the only reason a woman should not breastfeed is if she does not want to. This is about the policies and commercial practices that affect breastfeeding rates and therefore public health outcomes.
Why The Politics of Breastfeeding Matter is written by Gabrielle Palmer, author of the bigger work The Politics of Breastfeeding. Gabrielle has done an amazing job of condensing down into this smaller volume all the salient points required to explain these complex ethical issues, whilst providing signposting to further information and activities.
This book discusses not whether you should breastfeed or not, but how external factors have influenced the making of this choice, especially for financial gain. From describing how the market for breastmilk substitutes came about, the book shows how it has become a major global industry, and puts its efforts into persuading carers to choose its products over breastmilk. The book then goes on to explain the unfair ways in which companies who produce artificial milks have marketed them: both historically and contemporaneously; in developing countries and in the richest parts of the world. For example, by making claims that are simply untrue, by giving out free samples to create a need when the mother's milk is gone, or by presenting advertising propaganda as medical fact. The ethical ramifications go far beyond trade descriptions: when we replace breastmilk with artificial milk we introduce serious health risks; and artificial milks and the resources needed to prepare them safely can be a serious financial burden. Gabrielle states: "The majority of people in our world live in conditions where the consequences of not breastfeeding are devastating."
This unethical practice is only half of the story of this book: the other half is what happens when governments, international bodies, activists and individuals try to fight back. Gabrielle demonstrates how these companies have used their economic power to undermine regulation, and how brazen they are in the face of the facts of their transgressions. Gabrielle shows us who is fighting for a fairer practice for families and the vulnerable, and signposts both to further factual information, and to where we can go to help.
This guide is so helpful for understanding the complex issues surrounding the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and is impressive in its brevity. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the ethics of consumption, and to those looking to choose breastmilk substitutes for their won family, to support them in making an informed choice. And if you find this interesting, and have the time, please do read The Politics of Breastfeeding too!