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Book Review: Milk, Money and Madness, by Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels

Rachael VerNooy
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 6, December 1998 - January 1999, p. 132

In the United States today, just 62% of all new mothers attempt breastfeeding while only 26% are still breastfeeding six months later. We all wish that more mothers could experience the joy of breastfeeding their babies. Milk, Money and Madness provides us with background information that can help that wish come true.

The book begins with beliefs surrounding lactation from different cultures, past and present: breasts as sex symbols, intercourse taboos, diet during and after pregnancy, care of the mother after birth, beliefs about galactogogues (substances used to increase milk supply), beliefs about colostrum, care of premature and small infants, ways to judge the quality of human milk, feeding positions, and duration of breastfeeding.

The history of wet nursing is explored. I loved the story of the foundling home in 13th Century Rome where a corps of wet nurses nursed the day away while listening to live flute and lute music. As they grew older, the nurslings were taught to become musicians themselves.

Next, the authors present scientific evidence on the superiority of human milk for human babies. They compare the milks of several mammals, showing how the fat, protein and lactose content is different for each. The most detail is given on cow's milk, the basis for most formulas, and how it differs from human milk in its content of proteins, amino acids, fats, salts, minerals, vitamins, anti-infective substances, even water. They describe the living components of human milk, which, of course, cannot be duplicated in artificial feeding products. They also include research evidence showing that mothers who breastfeed and babies who are breastfed are healthier in a multitude of ways. As the authors write, "No one who even remotely understands the miracle of breast milk could possibly say that the choice between formula and breastfeeding is simply one of convenience" (page 110).

The book also details the history of formula feeding. It describes tactics used by manufacturers to spread the use of their artificial infant feeding product and the effect this has had on the world's babies. Formula companies generate huge profits. They have used and continue to use the health care system, especially maternity hospitals and pediatricians, to promote the use of their product.

This widespread use of formula means that worldwide, 1.5 million babies die every year because they were not breastfed. And this does not only happen in developing countries. One study estimates that four out of every 100 babies born in the US each year die because they are not breastfed. That adds up to thousands of infant deaths a year that could have been prevented by breastfeeding (page 93).

Fortunately, there has been steady growth in opposition to inappropriate formula use. Many countries now have programs to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, as do international groups such as the World Health Organization. UNICEF, the World Health Assembly, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and, of course, La Leche League International.

Finally, a chapter on women in the workplace discusses how employers can help women be successful at breastfeeding. Charts on maternity benefits show how much maternity leave is guaranteed to women in different countries, how much they are paid during this leave, even whether they are allowed nursing breaks when they return to work. Women in nearly every country in Europe get paid at full salary or close to it for three to five months of maternity leave and are allowed nursing breaks of an hour or more a day upon their return to work . In Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Honduras, working women have access to on-site child care and nursing breaks, making it easier to work and breastfeed. In other countries, such as the US, policies vary from employer to employer.

Milk, Money and Madness is an invaluable guide to the culture and politics surrounding breastfeeding. It has sold well and is now in its third printing. Editions have also been published for distribution in Japan and Southeast Asia.

Reference: Statistics in the Mother's Survey were compiled by Ross Products Division, Abbott Laboratories, Inc.

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