Book Review of The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding
I represented CNML as an exhibitor at the 2018 New Mexico Breastfeeding Taskforce Conference last month. The keynote speaker at this year's conference was Kimberly Seals Allers, author of The Big Letdown; How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding. Although I didn't hear her speak, I decided to buy her book, because it looked promising.
In the book, she discusses the sometimes shady history of the formula industry. Yes, I'm sure there was a humanitarian part to the creation of formula - helping those who could not breastfeed. However, the formula companies saw a huge potential financial profit to be had by convincing nervous moms that formula is necessary. One example in the book from as early as the 1940s is this little jingle:
"The child is going to die. Because the mother's breast has given out. Mama o Mama the child cries. If you want your child to get well, give it KLIM milk."
One public comment from the CEO of Mead Johnson Nutrition in 2015 really stuck with me and convinced me that the formula companies really are hoping more women will not breastfeed:
"...We continue to see breastfeeding rates in the U.S. climb through 2014. Now we'll be watching very closely as we go through 2015 to see whether the improvement in unemployment trends will cause this trend to abate somewhat. IT'S OUR HOPE AND EXPECTATION THAT THAT WILL BE THE CASE." (emphasis added)
It is crystal clear that this formula company and most likely others are not really the friends of breastfeeding.
It is not exclusive to formula companies. Many doctors have bought into the lie that formula is just as good as breastfeeding. There are many, many breastfeeding friendly doctors (Dr. Miriam Labbok R.I.P. and Dr. Sears come to mind) but many doctors are unfortunately swayed by the freebies the formula companies provide.
This book also discusses the unsupportive nature of the workplace for breastfeeding moms. The U.S. is fairly low on the list of quality maternity leave and its laws protecting pumping the the workplace are not as commonplace as they should be and are often not enforced. CNML believes women should ideally strive to be home with their nurslings and small children if at all possible. However improved maternity leave and enforced pumping laws will at least allow more working women to stay home longer with their babies and continue to breastfeed after returning to work.
The author discusses the role of feminism in downplaying the importance of breastfeeding and motherhood. I was pleasantly surprised to read her perspective on this issue. Although I had the impression that the author is pro-choice (although I am not 100% sure), except for a few brief mentions of how women do now gladly have the right to reproductive choice, I would say I agree with almost the entire rest of the book. She is very pro-motherhood and, of course, breastfeeding.
A good read! Highly recommended!