Breast or Bottle? Contemporary Controversies in Infant Feeding Policy and Practice

Breast or Bottle? Contemporary Controversies in Infant Feeding Policy and Practice

Breast or Bottle? Contemporary Controversies in Infant Feeding Policy and Practice

Breast or Bottle? Contemporary Controversies in Infant Feeding Policy and Practice

Synopsis

Breast or Bottle? is the first scholarly examination of the shift in breastfeeding recommendations occurring over the last half century. Through a close analysis of scientific and medical controversies and a critical examination of the ways in which medical beliefs are communicated to the public, Amy Koerber exposes layers of shifting arguments and meaning that inform contemporary infant-feeding advocacy and policy.Whereas the phrase "breast or bottle" might once have implied a choice between two relative equals, human milk is now believed to possess unique health-promoting qualities. Although it is tempting to view this revision in medical thinking as solely the result of scientific progress, Koerber argues that a progress-based interpretation is incomplete. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrating the health benefits of human milk has grown in recent years, but the story of why these forms of evidence have dramatically increased in recent decades, Koerber reveals, is a tale of the dedicated individuals, coalitions, and organizations engaged in relentless rhetorical efforts to improve our scientific explanations and cultural appreciation of human milk, lactation, and breastfeeding in the context of a historical tendency to devalue these distinctly female aspects of the human body. Koerber demonstrates that the rhetoric used to promote breastfeeding at a given time and cultural moment not only reflects a preexisting reality but also shapes the infant-feeding experience for new mothers.Koerber's claims are grounded in extensive rhetorical research including textual analysis, archival research, and interviews with key stakeholders in the breastfeeding controversy. Her approach offers a vital counterpoint to other feminist analyses of the shift toward probreastfeeding scientific discourse and presents a revealing rhetorical case study in the complex relationship between scientific data and its impact on medical policy and practices. The resulting interdisciplinary study will be of keen interest to scholars and students of rhetoric, communication, women's studies, medical humanities, and public health as well as medical practitioners and policymakers.

Excerpt

Amy Koerber writes that scientific evidence in recent decades strongly supports the value of infant breastfeeding because of its profound benefits in strengthening the human immune system. This support has been a major shift in the public framing of scientific thinking. And yet, she argues in Breast or Bottle? Contemporary Controversies in Infant Feeding Policy and Practice, the shift in scientific thinking itself and the larger social discussion of infant-feeding practices, was preceded and continues to be strongly influenced by a variety of rhetorical currents. Promotion of and resistance to breastfeeding, with entailments in feminist and scientific discourse, have a complex history, a history complicated by the commercial interest in bottle feeding. Koerber explores the rhetoric of these discourses as they appear in research articles, advice literature, and policy documents. A rich series of interviews, conducted over a period of ten years with mothers, consultants, advocates, and medical authorities, brings context and perspective to this textual analysis.

Professor Koerber shows how, even when, midcentury medical experts supported breastfeeding as a foundation, they often understood breastfeeding as a model for the development of a commercially manufactured, testable, controllable, bottled baby milk based on cow’s milk, with the guiding assumption that nutrition science could produce a commercial milk equivalent to, or even superior to, human milk. By the late twentieth century, it became more common to argue for the unique benefits of human milk for infant feeding. Earlier, breastfeeding had been the foundation; in an emerging formulation, breastfeeding was advocated as the norm, with the consequence of introducing a polarizing debate centering on the possible risks of bottle feeding. Professor Koerber’s study of the commonplaces invoked by advocates shows how strongly medical and scientific discourse have been flavored by larger cultural shifts and how advocates and mothers themselves frame their views as invocations of science. At the same time, feminist advocates and the society at large have not come to terms with what it would mean for twenty-first century American mothers to breastfeed their babies. The rhetorical history offered . . .

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