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Pediatricians say you should but it's okay if you don't. The hospital says, "Breast is best," but sends you home with formula "just in case." Your sister-in-law says, "Of course you should!" Your mother says, "I didn't, and you turned out just fine." Celebrities are photographed nursing in public, yet breastfeeding mothers are asked to cover up in malls and on airplanes. Breastfeeding is a private act, yet everyone has an opinion about it. How did feeding our babies get so complicated?
Journalist and infant health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers breaks breastfeeding out of the realm of "personal choice" and shows our broader connection to an industrialized food system that begins at birth, the fallout of feminist ideals, and the federal policies that are far from family friendly. The Big Letdown uncovers the multibillion-dollar forces battling to replace mothers' milk and the failure of the medical establishment to protect infant health. Weaving together research and personal stories with original reporting on medicine, big pharma, and hospitals, Kimberly Seals Allers shows how mothers and babies have been abandoned by all the forces that should be supporting families from the start--and what we can do to help.
Journalist Allers (coauthor of The Mocha Manual to Military Life) thinks the slogan "Breast Is Best" should really be "Breast Is Complicated" as she comes out swinging against simplistic probreastfeeding arguments. Though some background is necessary, too much of Allers's focus is on examples over a decade old, including a controversial advertising campaign from 2002, a controlled trial from 2001, and infant growth charts that were based on formula-fed babies until 2006. The resulting impression is that she doesn't have much new to say about 21st-century trends. Allers does have one unusual target feminism and though much of her ire targets older second-wave ideas, such as the masculinization of women in pursuit of workplace equality, she also blames the well-meaning approach of lactation activists for making breastfeeding seem aggressive or radical rather than normal. She also criticizes third-wave ideas, such as placing breastfeeding in the context of "choice feminism" rather than public health and social justice, and calls out the middle-class focus on workplace accommodations in corporate environments. Only at the end does Allers step back from the anger to propose approaches for moving forward, and then her ideas are too vague to be useful or actionable.