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Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood (Biopolitics) Hardcover – December 19, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Biopolitics
  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (December 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814794815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814794814
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,512,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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


"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,

"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

“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 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

"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,

Customer Reviews

It doesn't mean you have to be with your hild 24-7.
Amazon Customer
She makes some valid and interesting points regarding how we perceive risk in our culture, and the main thesis - Total Motherhood - extends far beyond breastfeeding.
Amazon Customer
More generally speaking, this book provides an excellent example of comprehensive, objective discourse analysis.
Lara Haynes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Doctor Momma on 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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70 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Ah Baby on February 24, 2011
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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Greenhut on 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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