Monday, 20 October 2014

Book Review: The Politics of Breastfeeding

I saw an advert on Facebook to download this book at a reduced price a couple of months ago, so I thought I'd seize the moment and try out the ebook format, especially since I have been keen to make better use of my tablet computer. I feel a bit guilty, like I have betrayed books, but I really enjoyed both the book AND the format. Because I am using my tablet to listen to podcasts in the car, as well as for knitting patterns, I usually have it with me, so it was easier to always have my book with me. Because the tablet provides the light it is easy to read when putting Bob to bed, or when I go to bed myself. It is easy to use single handed, so I am able to read while feeding Bob or letting him sleep on me. I think I definitely squeezed in more little reading sessions than I could have done with a book.

The book itself is a massive education. Growing up in a Catholic household and trying to live an ethical life, I have known about the Nestle Boycott since primary school, but I had sort of taken it for granted, not really learned the detailed facts and figures. This book lays them out clearly and with great explanations, case studies and evidence. The appendices provide further and more detailed information, such as the WHO code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. Even though I knew what was coming I was shocked to read the realities of the unethical practices of the producers of artificial infant feeding products. They are knowingly and willingly encouraging families to put their children's lives at risk. As a breastfeeding mother, I have never used formula, so I haven't really informed myself about it: on a practical level, it has always been sufficient for me to know how much more preferable breastfeeding is. This book taught me a lot about formula itself, and the risks associated with its use. I understood that formula was expensive, but I hadn't considered that families given free formula might water it down and sell what they could save that way on the black market. I knew that families in less developed countries didn't have access to clean water for making up bottles, but I hadn't thought about the practicalities of sterilising bottles and boiling water to make up feeds in parts of the world where there is no domestic electricity and fuel is precious. I also assumed that most of these problems are confined to the less developed world and families living in cash poverty, but the lack of regulation of artificial breastmilk substitutes means that children in affluent countries are at risk and their families exploited too, such as in the case of low salt formula which was advertised as healthy but was in fact harmful to babies.

While the subject matter of this book is incredibly emotive, I am very impressed by the author's ability to maintain an informative and measured tone. The information in the book is well supported and referenced, and the arguments well made. It was a joy for me to read something so well written, especially as I have recently struggled to find reading material pitched to suit my mood. I miss reading academic texts, and my day was absolutely made to find the development theory of Amartya Sen, one of my heroes from my academic life, brought into the argument of this book.

I honestly could not put this down, and cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in ethics, development, globalisation, or health. This is not a book about breastfeeding or artificial feeding, but a book about how we behave towards our fellow human beings, and to inform our consciences. If you are interested in learning more about this subject, you might like to start with Baby Milk Action (UK), or IBFAN.

Have you read this book? Please do comment, I'd love to hear from you.


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