The beautiful photograph on the cover of Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding sets the tone for the whole of this book. The picture shows a happy contented baby breastfeeding, gazing lovingly up to her mother, which is exactly the relaxed scene that new mothers hope for when breastfeeding is established.

There are lots of books around that seem to be designed to make women feel guilty if they do not breastfeed, or if they do not breastfeed for very long. However, this book is quite moderate in its stance: it accepts that some women may have problems along the way, but gives support and encouragement rather a guilt trip. For that reason, new mothers will continue to read it and persevere if they have difficulties, rather than abandoning it when the going gets tough, as they might do with a more “judgey” read.

May gives an introduction to the biological facts about breasts and babies’ mouths, and an explanation of why things might be difficult when new mums are learning to breastfeed. She also talks about the psychological side of maintaining your milk supply, and playing to the triggers that increase your body’s production of milk (such as sharing a room with your baby).

The section about nipple phobia is particularly interesting. You may have read or heard about some establishments asking women to feed their children in the bathroom instead of in a restaurant or public room. This seems at best rude and at worst insulting to mothers of breastfed babies.

But May exposes and explains the nipplephobia that is so common in the Western world. Certain sections of the public, she claims, are afraid of seeing women breastfeeding in public. May deconstructs the feelings about the sexualisation and objectification about women’s breasts, and how it is culturally acceptable for them to be erotic but not the function for which they were designed!

There is also a great section on working mothers, which is highly original in that it is realistic. Too often working mothers are pedalled the myth that they can go back to work for a whole day away from their baby without their milk supply suffering. This book gives advice about how to express milk, but also practical solutions about mixed feeding if that is what you end up having to do.

Perhaps the most important part of this book is its last chapter, which describes how we might create a breastfeeding culture. By that, May means that breastfeeding should be accepted as the “norm” rather than the aberration, and something that just hippy or alternative people do. May acknowledges that this involves a battle against formula food manufacturers, who after all have no interest in giving up a very profitable method of business.

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