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Is Breast Best? (Biopolitics) [Kindle Edition]

Joan Wolf
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Since the invention of dextri maltose and the subsequent rise of  Similac in the early twentieth century, parents with access to clean drinking water have had a safe alternative to breast milk. Use of formula spiked between the 1950s and 1970s, with some reports showing that nearly 75 percent of the population relied on commercial formula to at least supplement a breastfeeding routine. So how is it that most of those bottle fed babies grew up to believe that breast, and only breast, is best?Is Breast Best? Joan B. Wolf challenges the widespread belief that breastfeeding is medically superior to bottle feeding. Despite the fact that breastfeeding has become the ultimate expression of maternal dedication, Wolf writes, the conviction that breastfeeding provides babies unique health benefits and that formula feeding is a risky substitute is unsubstantiated by the evidence. In accessible prose, Wolf argues that a public obsession with health and what she calls 8220;total motherhood 8221; has made breastfeeding a cause c 233;l 232;bre, and that public discussions of breastfeeding say more about infatuation with personal responsibility and perfect mothering in America than they do about the concrete benefits of the breast.Why has breastfeeding re-asserted itself over the last twenty years, and why are the government, the scientific and medical communities, and so many mothers so invested in the idea? Parsing the rhetoric of expert advice, including the recent National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, and rigorously questioning the scientific evidence, Wolf uncovers a path by which a mother can feel informed and confident about how best to feed her thriving infant 8212;whether flourishing by breast  by bottle.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This heavily footnoted defense of formula feeding will undoubtedly fan the fire between those who believe “breast is best” versus those who think manufactured food is just fine, thank you. Wolf, a political scientist, is on strongest ground when she discusses the history of this emotionally charged topic. Unfortunately, she seems out of her element when describing perceived flaws in medical studies of breast milk and talking about financial issues. Inexplicably, she fails to discuss the price of formula, which can easily run $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Instead, she talks about what she sees as the “exorbitant” costs of breastfeeding. (Presumably, she is referring to how it’s tricky for poor women to hold down a job and nurse their babies.) An expansion of a 2007 article Wolf wrote for the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, this pro-formula book treatise would have benefited from a more nuanced argument. For a better book, see Dr. Naomi Baumslag’s Milk, Money, and Madness (1995). --Karen Springen


“It is the all-encompassing nature of breast-feeding that is the crux of the most interesting part of Wolf's book. She makes a compelling argument that we are a risk-averse culture that has lost all perspective when it comes to risk assessment and our health, and this tendency is particularly pervasive on the issue of breast-feeding… In her book, Wolf rightfully contends that in the government's and advocates' zeal to increase the numbers of breast-fed babies, they have vastly discounted the harsh realities of breast-feeding in a modern world.”
-Tara A. Trower,

"Wolf notes the 'insular and unidimensional zealotry' of breastfeeding campaginers and skillfully uncovers elements of racism and elitism in their behavior toward working women who do not have the luxury to breastfeed."-A. H. Koblitz,Choice

"Wolf confronts the stereotypes of ideal motherhood and explains how public health campaigns and advocacy groups have relied on flawed infant-feeding research to exaggerate any health risks associated with using infant formula."-Texas A&M University News,

“Beautifully written, powerfully argued. . . . Challenges the science prescription that all infants must be breastfed.”-Linda Blum,author of At the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeeding and Motherhood in the Contemporary United St

"Wolf looks at the breast-feeding studies much like ones that ask whether race matters in the way people vote. She scrutinizes the design of the research and how it's been executed and 'then how it's been reported, both to scientists and to the public'"-University of Chicago Magazine

"Instead of disputing the science about the chemical makeup of breast milk . . . she (Wolf) posits that the benefits most people associate with breast-feeding studies cannot be separated from the fact that mothers who breast-feed may be more attuned to health and may take more precautions about hygene . . . Wolf rightfully contends that in the government's and acvocate's zeal to increase the numbers of breast-fed babies, they have vastly discounted the harsh realities of breast-feeding in a modern world"-Tara A. Trower,

"Wolf offers a powerful and important cultural critique...this is an insightful and eye-opening book that will be of interest to sociologists of gender, medical sociologists, and science studies scholars."-Abigail C. Saguy,American Journal of Sociology

Product Details

  • File Size: 625 KB
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0814794815
  • Publisher: Monthly Review Press (January 5, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,066 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
86 of 97 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuanced Look at Breastfeeding, Disregard Biased Reviews February 24, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a trained researcher with experience across several disciplines and a mother of three (yes, I breastfeed them all ) I've followed the breastfeeding literature (including academic journals) for more than a decade from before I became pregnant and have come to a similar conclusion as Joan - basically the evidence for breastfeeding is less conclusive, the benefits smaller and most likely more short-term than the pediatric community has led parents to believe. Having spent nearly twenty-years immersed in research I found Wolf's discussion of the scientific evidence nuanced despite the biased Booklist reviewer's comment Wolf was "out of her element" discussing it. Wolf's one of the few to question the evidence in print. Health authorities are quick to talk about the assorted benefits without discussing the limitations of the research, one of the most problematic being a lack of accounting for the differences between mothers who do and those who don't breastfeed (that may ultimately explain the "benefits"). This is not merely a "perceived" flaw as Booklist reviewer Karen Springen snarkily writes but a very real and from an empirical perspective, serious limitation making any causal relationship between breastfeeding and its benefits purely speculative. That's Research 101, not a figment of Dr. Wolf's imagination. Nor is this book "a defense of formula" or "a pro-formula book treatise" as Springen alleges - it is, however, a detailed socio-cultural (and evidence-based) examination of breastfeeding, a sorely needed one for people who care about the actual scientific evidence. Not surprising, the book this reviewer finds more compelling and cites in the review turns out to be a rather aggressive pro-breastfeeding book. Don't let the unflattering Booklist review deter you from picking up Wolf's book especially if you prefer actual evidence to opinion and hype.
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67 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's about time someone said it February 24, 2011
By Ah Baby
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have a master's degree in engineering, and at the time of my first child's birth, I'd had more than a dozen years of engineering experience, much of it spent designing, conducting and interpreting tests. I was well aware of the difficulties inherent in quantifying even the most straightforward differences between groups, and also well aware of how ambiguous test results can be and how they can sometimes be manipulated to support an experimenter's agenda. And yet somehow it had never occurred to me not to trust everything I'd heard or read about breastfeeding. Like Joan Wolf, I waded into the published studies just looking for clarification (How many fewer infections will my baby have, and how much more intelligent will she be if I keep this up?). I was stunned by what I found. Many tests are poorly designed, in terms of how they differentiate between breastfed and non-breastfed infants, or how they collect data and control for confounders. Of the better-designed tests, for every one that shows an advantage for breastfeeding, another concludes that the difference doesn't exist at all or is wholly explained by other variables. Some actually suggest a possible disadvantage to breastfeeding, such as a link between exclusive breastfeeding and allergies. Frequently, the results of studies are phrased with an undisguised bias for breastfeeding, and misrepresented by the media.

Even if some of the health claims are real - and the most convincing one is that breastfeeding reduces episodes of diarrhea - does that really justify pressuring a woman who hates breastfeeding or has tremendous difficulty with it to continue miserably for the "sake of her baby?
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate assessment August 13, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book after trying desperately to breastfeed and running into one problem after another. Throughout the process, I consistently felt that my symptoms were downplayed or not treated because the sole focus was on how much milk I was producing. I was treated as though my body didn't matter at all. The prodigious amount of time and money that it required to pump, treat my nursing-related symptoms, and sit with my newborn trying to train him to latch correctly were also just expected of me - I still get mad when people blithely talk about breastfeeding being "free", as though there were no costs involved. Hospital grade pump, pumping bra, nipple shields, pads, nursing clothes, fenugreek, etc. - even if nursing had worked out for me, I still would have had to shell out the $ for all this. (Sure, formula costs money too, but no one out there is claiming that it's "free".)

This book really put things in perspective - not only about breastfeeding but about the way that we emphasize eliminating all possible "risks" to our children, not realizing that we are expending huge amounts of effort on things that are either very unlikely or that have a very low possibility of harm. The whole idea that the mother is uniquely responsible for eliminating all risks to her child's development is problematic. The worshipping of the "natural", as a reaction to science constantly changing and updating its conclusions, is also taken to ridiculous levels.

This book is well researched and thoughtful - a bit on the academic side, but I appreciate that because too often the cultural messages about breastfeeding are based on "studies" that don't actually come to the conclusions that are touted in popular media. It's great to be able to cut through the nonsense and learn what conclusions can actually be scientifically drawn.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars It's Not Just The Milk
There are clearly some good intentions in this e/book for those mothers who are unable to breastfeed. Read more
Published 4 months ago by David J White
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent discourse analysis of modern motherhood in the US
Although this is not a light read, Wolf's consideration and research is absolutely thorough (with an appreciated dose of dry wit thrown in). Read more
Published 22 months ago by Lara Haynes
1.0 out of 5 stars Breastfeeding is Normal!
All mammals breastfeed, humans are no differnt. There can never be an ethically randomized trial to breastfeed or not. Read more
Published on March 6, 2013 by ma2one
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book!
This is an excellent book. From a scientific standpoint, the research is very well done, the analysis spot on, and the conclusions clear. Read more
Published on August 24, 2012 by JDoe
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource on breastfeeding AND on how to analyze a study
I think this is a great read for any mother wishing to explore something beyond the current "Breast is best" thinking. Read more
Published on February 20, 2012 by Aleah
1.0 out of 5 stars Not very compelling
The author exaggerates how hard it is to breastfeed a baby. She makes it seem like a mother cannot have a job and breastfeed as well. Read more
Published on October 19, 2011 by A. Ramirez
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, someone has said it!!
For years i've been saying all these breastfeeding studies are full of crap... I'm so glad someone finally wrote about it!! Read more
Published on September 4, 2011 by AJK
4.0 out of 5 stars good points but repetitive
Intelligently written and thoroughly researched. This book really shows that there is no scientific evidence that breast feeding is superior to formula feeding and that each... Read more
Published on June 13, 2011 by Felicia
2.0 out of 5 stars Wolf huffed, and puffed, and blew off research
According to Joan Wolf in the preface, her book is about what she calls a "'risk culture,' broadly speaking. Read more
Published on March 11, 2011 by S. Teichner
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read; don't judge a book by its cover
There is far more to this eloquent, well-researched book than the media surrounding it would have you believe. Read more
Published on February 7, 2011 by Amazon Customer
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