Review: Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding

by Angie Sonrode

As a self-professed lactivist and lover of midwife Ina May Gaskin, I picked up  her book, Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, with high expectations and a curious mind. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, I was not disappointed.

I have read many books on lactation and this one may have just taken the top spot on my bookshelf. This book is well-written from a warm, tender voice and chock-full of helpful, easy-to-follow information that is very reader- (and tired mother)
friendly. In addition, it is peppered with real
women’s stories and experiences.

Ina May knows how to grab your attention. On the first few pages she states, “You probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if you didn’t already have some idea of the benefits of breastfeeding and the possible undesirable consequences of feeding artificial milks to babies as a first choice.” This statement sets the tone of the book, as one clearly in favor of breastfeeding but it is also not her intention to pass judgment on mothers. She has found a way to promote breastfeeding with honest, well-rounded facts, while breaking down the components of breastfeeding so anyone giving it a go does so well informed.

One of the reasons I liked this book so much is that Ina May clearly understands not just the biology and physiology of breastfeeding, but also the social, economic and emotional factors that go into a woman’s breastfeeding experience. She touches on women in the workforce and their pumping dilemmas, sexuality and breastfeeding (yes, it’s possible to have a very normal and active sex life while lactating), and the connection of sleeping arrangements and the success of breastfeeding. While other books on parenting and breastfeeding have included some of these topics, none that I have read have managed to complete the puzzle— meaning that there are many, many factors that contribute to a mother/baby duo’s success or failure with nursing.

My favorite chapter in the book is titled “Shared Nursing, Wet- Nursing, and Forgotten Lore.” In this gem of a chapter Ina May discusses the benefits of community involvement in breastfeeding no matter the size of the community. She discusses induced lactation which is when someone that has lactated in the past re-lactates— including grandmothers and aunts, and also sympathetic lactation, which is when someone who has never lactated before can begin to produce milk if there is a need or she is in situations that raise her levels of oxytocin (a doula or midwife are examples).

Ina May also talks about the importance of recognizing that when a family suffers an infant loss, the effects of lactation need to be addressed and incorporated into the healing process. This is something often left out when helping parents in this unfortunate situation.

The book ends with Ina May talking about America’s “Nipplephobia” and the ramifications this has had on our breastfeeding rates and success stories. She goes into detail about how the U.S. was the only country in the world to vote against the WHO/Unicef Code of Marketing of Breast- milk Substitutes and that this decision has had an escalading effect on our meager breastfeeding rates. This is something we are still paying dearly for, with long-term effects.

When a society works hard to hide all aspects of nursing and breasts it in turn hides the primary reason women have breasts at all. If a culture of women and men grows up only seeing bottle-feeding it makes sense that this would be their perception of “normal.” Likewise, if a woman struggling with breastfeeding (as many new mothers do before they get the hang of it) is sent home from the hospital with formula samples she is much more likely to use

them than had the samples not been introduced.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the wonders of breastfeeding as well as those looking to further their lactation education—couldn’t we all?

Angie Sonrode is a birth doula and lactivist whose business is called Continuum Birth Services because she truly believes it takes a village. She is the mama to four wonderful children. 

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