New Book, Unlatched, Explores Whether Breastfeeding Is Vital

UnLatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy, by Jennifer Grayson, explores her and the nation’s experience with infant formula

There seem to be at least two sides to the breastfeeding versus formula debate.

The con view is represented in the 2015 book, Lactivism, where the author tried to tarnish breastfeeding advocacy as a matter of self interest and contrary to women’s rights. Its author also naively and unscientifically concluded that breastfeeding does not matter to babies.

Unlatched CoverThe best empirically-based undressing of Lactivism’s conclusions is by Maureen Minchin.

How did we get to the point that a couple of dozen bad-tasting, non-human ingredients is presumed as good as a living substance that has thousands of ingredients tailored at each feeding to the needs of the child, changing in flavor based on mother’s diet to train the palate of the child for a wide variety of foods, which is actually not a food but a tissue necessary to complete proper body/brain development?

In her new book, Unlatched, Jennifer Grayson takes on this mystery. Interweaving her family history of infant feeding with lots of relevant historical information, she discusses her interviews with researchers and reviews of research findings.

Here are some of her interesting findings:

Prior to the industrial revolution, breastfeeding took place for at least two years if not longer. Things changed with the development of the industrial revolution. Mothers often lived away from extended family members who would otherwise have helped establish breastfeeding, a difficult challenge for most first time mothers. As a result many of these family-isolated first-time mothers failed in their attempts to breastfeed and moved to homemade formula.

Grayson describes the rise of homemade baby formulas as more and more women began to work away from home. Baby deaths and illness led “men of science” to intervene with more scientific formulations. Baby illness and deaths also led to the field of pediatrics, whose doctors began to monitor the use of infant formulas.

Sadly, doctors were not (and still usually are not) educated about how to bring about successful breastfeeding.

Formula companies began to make themselves indispensable when births became largely medicalized in the US after World War II. They swooped into hospitals with free samples and pervasive presence so that mothers and doctors considered formula the normal choice.

Grayson gives an analogy for the shift to and defense of infant formula over breastfeeding. It is as if “during the past century, we had decided to swap out the blood supply in our bodies, to replace it with an artificial blood substitute—and then demanded that the people who support real blood prove that it really worked better than the manufactured alternate.” (272)

The book is filled with astounding bits of information, for example:

  • 70% of babies in the USA are cared for by someone other than parents in the first year of life.
  • One hopes that these are caring caregivers who get to know the signals of the baby and respond appropriately, build the interactive “conversations” with baby that ensure the baby feels grounded in relational response.
  • A human baby consuming 27 ounces of breast milk will receive from 100,000 to 10 million probiotic bacteria per day.
  • Recall that babies grow their immune systems in the first 5 years of life, and breastmilk has all the immunoglobulins to build it. A tremendous amount of growth occurs after birth that depends on breastmilk.
  • In a 2004 study, nearly half of pediatricians believed breastfeeding and formula feeding were equally acceptable feeding methods.
  • Sadly again, doctors are not educated about the need for breast milk for proper development of brain and body.
  • Only 13 of 190 nations are obsessed with breasts, since in virtually all nations, breasts are used for babies, not lovers (which satisfies the need for breast connection in babyhood).
  • The book is awash in tales of personal challenges with infant feeding and weaning. It is an inspiring read and good place to start to understand how we have arrived at the current notion that mothers should feed their babies with formula.

Finally, Grayson asks: “In the epidemic of our nation’s ill heath, what if we are overlooking an utterly simple piece of the puzzle–that what and the way we feed our young, radically altered for the first time in human history, has played a role?” (273)

That, indeed, is the seed for new conversations and research!

Photo Shutterstock/Garnet Photo

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