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My favourite book (with a stupid title)

June 28, 2013
Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book cover - orange surround with red-haired woman breastfeeding her baby on the cover

As this is National Breastfeeding Week, I thought it was about time I wrote a review of one of my favourite feeding/parenting books:

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition).

It’s about, um, breastfeeding.  But also so much more…

First impressions

There’s no getting away from it.  The title is slightly weird – and not very accurate.  The Womanly Art… was first written in the late 1950s, when that kind of branding was probably what all the groovy Mums thought was brilliant as they came home late from a night dancing a the milk bar.  Or something.

The first edition was written on typewriters by the founders of La Leche League – a worldwide support organisation famed for breastfeeding and parenting advice, and a name no-one can pronounce (it’s La lay-chay.  Apparently).

The book has gone through numerous incarnations since then and the 8th edition is bang up-to-date.  It talks about how to juggle feeding a baby with your iPad (not literally) and the dilemmas faced by women who need to return to work soon after birth.

It also talks about techniques for bottle feeding and how partners can successfully support feeding, even if they don’t lactate themselves.

But I expect ‘The family guide to feeding babies milk in various different ways with quite a lot of early parenting advice thrown in was probably too long for the book cover…

The UK version of the cover is bright orange, to match the flame-coloured hair of the mother and baby in the main photo.  I think this is funky and beautiful; you may think it screams ‘LOOK AT THIS BOOK WITH THE MODERN WOMAN AND THE WEIRD TITLE.  IT’S ORANGE!’

…personal choice.

It will, however, be easy to find should you be stumbling around in the dark, groping for a newborn in the early hours whilst trying not to stub your toe on any unattended sharp objects.

What’s inside

The first part of the book is an introduction to breastfeeding, with information on things you can do to prepare when pregnant; what you might consider when giving birth to give you an improved chance of getting the baby to latch; and then a section on the first few days after the baby is born.

The book then goes on to have a chapter on each stage of feeding, divided into weeks (so you get the first few days, the first few weeks, the next few months, feeding after a year and so on).

Towards the back, there are sections on problems you may encounter, with some suggestions on what to try to fix them.  There are also ‘tear sheets’ at the back for when you need a quick reminder (e.g. baby crying and you don’t have time to rifle through the index).

Throughout the book, the emphasis is on the importance of building your support network – not just so you can feed a baby, but so you can feel part of a community.  The book is still produced by La Leche League, who also run support groups and helplines, so it’s not surprising that the authors think that sharing experience with other families is key to feeling good about your feeding choices.

Pros

The book’s tone is incredibly friendly.  Like, really.  It feels as though some of your most approachable-but-cool friends are sitting opposite you, mugs of tea in hand, offering virtual biscuits as they support you through whatever is happening.

There is a wealth of knowledge, here.  It would be a brilliant book to read cover-to-cover when pregnant, but the chapters also mean that you can dip in and out to sections as you need.

I liked the fact that it wasn’t all about breastfeeding – the book recognises that sometimes women and babies have problems, and offers techniques if supplementation is required.  For example, it shows you how to make a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), which is a way to feed a baby expressed or formula milk but still allowing him/her to feed from your breast.

It also talks about techniques for using a bottle which give maximum cuddling time for you and the baby (always nice) and allow those feeding to be able to spot when the baby has had enough.

It also has a good dose of humour woven through.  There’s advice on how to deal with the ‘Aunt Frannies’ in your life, and the section on ‘The average diet of a Toddler’ had me snorting out loud (a lot of carpet lint appears to be involved).

Cons

The book is focussed on the American medical system, and mentions procedures and hospital routines which may not be relevant to those giving birth in other countries.

It’s very enthusiastic about breastfeeding.  You will probably either find this infectious and supportive, or a bit irritating.  The first couple of chapters are probably the most zealous, and then it settles down.

There are also some suggestions (e.g. about co-sleeping) which may differ from the official national health advice in your country.  As always, you are a grown-up and it’s up to you to make your own choices – the book will offer some suggestions but it’s down to the individual to do what’s right for their own family circumstances.

This book gives a fabulous introduction to all the issues but can’t replace in-person, expert support tailored to your own circumstances.  See the Help! section for contacts for Breastfeeding/feeding support if you need it in more detail.

Conclusion

This book is not about breastfeeding; it’s about parenting.  I would put this on my own list of books to buy for a close friend who is pregnant.  I came away from reading it with a warm glow of positivity about my own ability to be a parent.  It’s already become one of my favourite birth-related books.  Just make sure you get the most up-to-date edition!

You can buy a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th edition) here (£) or through this link instead.

(£) means that I will get a small fee if you buy something through this link.  You can use the plain link if you prefer.  It doesn’t affect what I think of you… or the book.

Got any other breastfeeding / feeding support books to recommend?  Please let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Who are the breastfeeding experts? | Birth Geek

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