Monday, June 7, 2010

Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding

I realize that there have been a few breastfeeding posts in a row, but seeing as I'm spending much of my days and nights doing just that, I guess it's on the brain. Recently, I read Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding. Ina May is a woman's woman. Reading her is like having a chat with your auntie about breastfeeding. She peppers her writing with illuminating anecdotes and funny asides.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth is famous for its birth stories and one of the best aspects of this book, is it's breastfeeding stories. There are breastfeeding triumphs and losses, long unheard of stories of wet nursing, nursing multiples tales, and more. These are stories that allow women to see that breastfeeding is above all, simple and accessible. It is almost like reading about a different time and place, but these stories all take place in the here and now. Ina May is a student of cultures, and the stories, or "forgotten lore" as she calls them, are no accident. For, it is from lack of these stories in our lives, that Americans have lost so much knowledge of breastfeeding.

The highlight of the book is a chapter entitled "Nipplephobia". It is a brilliant and humorous analysis of why Americans, unlike other cultures, are so uptight about a woman's breasts being used for anything other than sex. This prudishness gives way to a dislike of breastfeeding in general. Nipplephobia is defined, identified, and cured in this chapter. She looks at other cultures and their examples to lead the way towards healing America's nipplephobia. I am especially fond (and I guess somewhat flattered), that towards the end of the chapter she cites examples from Muslim cultures where women who are covered head to toe, still have no trouble breastfeeding their baby, when their baby is hungry. One such example is from a male friend of hers who lived with a group of Bedouins during the '60's. Here is his experience in a culture where women covered head to toe:

"...but what really had an effect on me was the time when one of these Bedouin women raised her robes, exposing her breasts to me as she fed her baby. She acted as if everything were perfectly all right. It was only I who was taken by surprise. I realized that in cultures in which women breastfeed their babies, everyone in that culture grows up seeing breasts being used as they are meant to be. They have a natural attitude toward them. It's only in cultures like ours, where you almost never see a woman breastfeeding, that breasts become the object for something else, usually something to lust after."

She also cites Norway's example of moving towards a pro-breastfeeding culture, and gives reasons why they were able to do so while we weren't. It is a thought provoking chapter. The book as a whole is great with lots of information and tips about breastfeeding in the early days to weaning. The last two chapters, "Shared Nursing, Wet Nursing and Forgotten Lore" and the previously mentioned "Nipplephobia", are what makes this book so unique and memorable.

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