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Reclaiming Breastfeeding for the United States:
Protection, Promotion, and Support

Edited by Karin Cadwell
Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2002
Available from LLLI, 1155-19, $39.95

reviewed by Ann Calandro
Waxhaw NC USA
and Jake Aryeh Marcus
Lower Gwynedd PA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 1, February-March 2003, pp. 14-15.

This insightful book is a compendium of information about breastfeeding in the United States. Karin Cadwell and the book’s other authors have compiled statistics, quotes, and research findings to enhance understanding of the status of breastfeeding in the US today. Until 100 years ago, breastfeeding was the norm in this country, as it was in the world. Now it is almost considered unusual behavior. The writers in Caldwell’s book make it clear why breastfeeding educators and advocates must be on a mission to reclaim what has been lost in our culture.

While the authors of Reclaiming Breastfeeding delve into different areas of interest for the “breastfeeding citizens of the United States,” especially those whose goal is to “protect, promote, and support” breastfeeding, one should not expect to learn more about breastfeeding management. Do expect to find tips for encouraging populations of mothers to breastfeed and breastfeed for longer periods. Leaders will learn a great deal about US culture and breastfeeding—where it was, where it is now, and where it will hopefully be in the future. Readers will also learn what commitments have been made by State and Federal US governments to cooperate with the World Health Organization regarding artificial baby milk, and what promises have not been kept. In short, this book is both filled with facts and figures, and is a political treatise. Cadwell and her authors have written not only about breastfeeding in the US, but how loss of breastfeeding as a cultural institution and biological imperative has occurred throughout the world for many of the same reasons it has in the US.

Cadwell’s authors analyze many issues affecting breastfeeding in the US. For many years, breastfeeding advocacy has been compared to a three-legged stool, with the understanding that each leg is critical and equally important for stability and success. The three legs are to promote, to protect, and to support. While reading through this book, one will begin to see the three legs and just how extensive the network of education and understanding must be to enable this stool to balance. Accomplishing balance is an ongoing effort.

Chapter One is a detailed history of breastfeeding in the US from 1939 to the present. It does a good job of introducing major events, people, and organizations that have worked together to bring breastfeeding back to US culture. Moving from historical episodes to political theory, Cadwell writes that, “the work of helping a mother breastfeed properly is invisible work…and the skill of helping mothers to breastfeed was lost because of its invisible nature—it is difficult to recognize or value what is invisible.” Breastfeeding was one of the many bits of life passed from mother to daughter, from female family member to female family member. It was not an area known to men but it did not need to be. Unfortunately, once a generation of mothers fails to breastfeed, one generation of females cannot teach the next. Now it is not only men, but all of society that has little understanding of the work and knowledge needed to assist breastfeeding.

Have you ever been puzzled about why some women persist and breastfeed despite experiencing multiple problems, and others quit breastfeeding when their baby is thriving and growing well? In Chapter Eight, the authors examine the family and cultural influences on breastfeeding duration.

The book discusses how working away from one’s baby poses challenges to breastfeeding and provides a brief history of the percentage of women working in the US, along with research that indicates mothers working part-time and mothers who have over four months of maternity leave often breastfeed longer. With so many mothers returning to the paid workplace, this research can guide the reader to a better understanding of what methods would be most effective to increase breastfeeding among US mothers.

Chapter Three presents statistics on the percentages of Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic women who breastfeed and discusses some possible cultural factors influencing breastfeeding in these communities. On a similar theme, Chapter Four examines the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and the impact of formula discharge packs on breastfeeding success and those most at risk after receiving them.

Interested in critical study of the validity of research? Chapter Six offers an informative and essential discussion of “evidence-based breastfeeding practice.”

It is well known that the majority of US women who breastfeed are educated, higher income, and Caucasian. Chapter Nine discusses this phenomenon and suggests strategies for promoting breastfeeding among all women.

There is a tremendous amount of information in Reclaiming Breastfeeding for the United States. There are no pretty pictures or interesting personal stories in this book. The information is nonetheless riveting and accessible. Leaders who would like to learn more about the history and future of breastfeeding in the US will be fascinated by the information contained in this book.

We are all part of a world in which breastfeeding has been abandoned to a significant extent. Having a solid command of the information in Reclaiming Breastfeeding will help anyone to participate in the effort to return this essential, life-saving part of our humanness to this and other cultures. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

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