Newspaper article International New York Times

How Breast-Feeding Became Big Business

Newspaper article International New York Times

How Breast-Feeding Became Big Business

Article excerpt

Breast-feeding has become a question with social, political, medical and moral implications

Lactivism. How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy. By Courtney Jung. 258 pages. Basic Books. $26.99.

If you're a parent with young children, you've likely encountered a sanctimommy. Sanctimommies, of course, are that modern species of sanctimonious mothers who liberally dispense parenting advice laced with the subtext, "I'm not saying you're a bad parent, but ..." Smug in their maternal superiority, they crusade perhaps most vehemently against moms who choose not to breast-feed.

If this moralism were limited to sanctimommies, it might be written off as nothing more than parenting blog fodder. But according to "Lactivism," Courtney Jung's riveting expose of the forces that have turned the simple act of feeding one's baby into a veritable battlefield, "to breast-feed or not to breast-feed" has become a question with far-reaching implications spanning medicine, politics, religion, feminism, commerce, race and social class.

Ms. Jung, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, has no beef with breast-feeding, just with breast-feeding "zealotry," which she began to notice while pregnant, when virtual strangers seemed oddly invested in her jumping on the bandwagon. Later, as a breast-feeding new mother, she sat in the waiting room of a pediatrician's office and watched another mom sheepishly take out a bottle of formula and, as though caught, justify its necessity. (This mom had what's known as "lactation failure" -- a shame- inducing term if there ever was one.) But it wasn't until Ms. Jung came across research debunking many health benefits widely attributed to breast milk -- such as increased intelligence or a decreased risk of SIDS, certain cancers, obesity and diabetes -- that she became curious: How had breast-feeding gone from a personal choice to what seemed like an imperative and an all-out cause? The truths she uncovers may make your jaw drop.

She begins with some context, noting that while breast-feeding advocates, or lactivists, claim that breast-feeding has always been natural, in fact there has never been a time in recorded history, dating back to the ancients, when all women could or even chose to breast-feed. Yet between 1971 and 2011, when breast-feeding rates in the United States went from 24 percent to 79 percent, breast- feeding morphed into an unlikely consensus issue, "offering the moral high ground to almost everyone" -- feminists and conservative Christians, politicians on the left and right, environmentalists and capitalists, scientists and creationists -- who "disagree about almost every other issue."

Never mind that according to Ms. …

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