Talk about tackling a taboo. In her upcoming book, Is Breast Best?, Joan B. Wolf takes on the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, doctors, and many, many parents. Not to mention the La Leche League.
To her title question, the assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Texas A&M University, answers, breastfeeding advocacy (at least as far as the developed world is concerned) is all hype and hyperbole. There is no scientific reason to prefer the breast to the bottle. The evidence is unclear, the relation between cause and effect in statistical studies murky, and the biological mechanisms by which breast milk supposedly provides benefits cloudy.
Wolf first became interested in a more limited question: Why have feminists avoided the issue? After all, it can be difficult to balance babies, feeding schedules, breast pumps, and job demands. “It’s hard not to notice the veritable tsunami of conflicting advice that greets women from the moment they try to conceive.” Every detail of their lives, they are told, can be manipulated to optimize pregnancy and childbirth.When it comes to feeding, however, there is virtually no debate. Even formula companies, which have a vested interest in getting women to bottle feed, say openly that ‘breast is best’ and try to make the case that their products are closest to breastfeeding. That is the equivalent of Nike telling people that it’s always better to go barefoot, but if they choose to wear shoes, Nikes are better than Reeboks. So I wondered how feminists, who have been highly critical of so many aspects of reproduction, made sense of medical advice that seemed irrefutable and that essentially told women that infant feeding was solely their responsibility,” Wolf told The Chronicle..