Book review: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Could there be a worse title? Who in the 21st century wants to be described as “womanly” and since when is waking up at 3 am and inserting a painful nipple into a screaming newborns mouth and “art”?

To make matters worse, the book is the official breastfeeding manual of the La Leche League, an organisation whose reputation raises hackles all over the motherhood globe.

But trust me, this book is excellent, even if you’ve been to a La Leche League meeting and felt completely alienated by the organic cloth diaper, elimination communication brigade. This book is everything a judgemental breastfeeding group is not and covers so much more than the articles on the La Leche League International website.

Some things you might not expect to find between the covers:
How to supplement with breastmilk or formula
Different ways of bottle-feeding
How to take care of your newborn baby
Information on natural birth and cesareans
Breastfeeding after a cesarean

I read this book cover to cover while pregnant and turned to it time and time again in the first few weeks. In fact I wish I’d listened to the book more than the “advice” given to me by the doctors and nurses at the time. Mainly, I love the tone of this book: stay calm, follow your intuition, you’re the mum and you know what’s right for you.

Obviously a book can’t solve all your problems as a new mum but this one gives it a good shot.

What is missing? More details on healthy formula feeding plus a guide for weaning off formula. I know that may be asking a bit much from the main breastfeeding advocacy group but there is evidence that formula feeding can promote continued breastfeeding.  Also, if the final goal is to get as many women to breastfeed for as long as possible, why alienate those who had to or wanted to resort to formula?

Other things I would change: more advice on supplementing with formula because you’re in pain, not just because of low supply, more on how to wean off formula, a more balanced approach to doo-dahs like nipple shields and so on. Yes, they have downsides, but they can also be life-savers.

When you’re living in the middle of nowhere it is also a tad annoying to be told: “if this doesn’t work, speak to a licensed lactation consultant”. Sometimes a book is all you’ve got.

If that’s the case, this is as good as it gets.

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