A Thumbs Down Book Review
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
By La Leche League International
Review by Sally Fallon
Now in its sixth edition, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has served as guide to thousands of women determined to do the best for their babies. And it is loaded with encouragement and practical advice about getting started at baby’s birth, and continuing breastfeeding as baby grows.
Unfortunately, the dietary advice in this book is terrible, so wrong that it is likely to undermine all the good that is intended in giving baby breast milk instead of commercial formula.
Let’s start with the first sentence in the chapter on nutrition. “If you already have good eating habits, there is no reason for you to make any major changes while you are breastfeeding.” We’ll look at what the authors consider to be good eating habits in a moment, but even when a woman’s diet is very good, her body needs extra nourishment to build a healthy child during pregnancy and lactation. The feeding of special, nutrient-dense foods to pregnant and nursing women is a practice found among all traditional peoples. These special foods were invariably animal products, rich in fat, foods like fish eggs, shellfish, fish liver oils, carp, butter, whole milk, organ meats, bear fat, eggs and pickled bones. In China, for example, nursing women eat up to ten eggs per day, a “major” dietary change that ensures high levels of important vitamins and fatty acids in their milk.
But according to La Leche League, women should avoid high levels of animal foods because “research has linked high-fat diets to heart disease and other ills.” Nursing mothers should cut back on animal fats and eat more plant-based proteins, they say. “Any fat that is solid at room temperature (butter, margarine, vegetable shortening) should be eaten in moderation,” is their advice, even though butter is an important source of nutrients and the trans fats in margarine and vegetable shortening are really bad news for the developing infant. “Safflower oil, canola oil, and soybean oil. . . are important for your health,” say the authors, even though these invariably rancid oils contain nothing of benefit to the mother or her infant.
All women have to do to have healthy breastmilk, say the authors of this book, is to eat a varied diet and avoid sugar, additives, highly processed cereals and grains, caffeine and soft drinks. Nursing women should also avoid salt, they say, even though salt is vital for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Human milk contains sodium chloride for a reason, but there won’t be much there if the mother is avoiding salt.
As for supplementation, only brewers yeast and B12 for vegetarians are recommended. Women can get vitamin A from carrots, they say, totally ignoring research indicating the increased requirements for vitamin A during pregnancy and lactation, and the difficulty of converting carotenes in plant foods to true vitamin A found in animal fats. Tofu, full of mineral-blocking phytic acid, is just as good a source of calcium as milk products, say the authors of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
As the national voice for breastfeeding, La Leche League has an enormous responsibility to provide nursing mothers with accurate information on diet and nutrition. Instead, the very women who have the will and intelligence to enact the dietary changes that will ensure the optimum development of their children are bamboozled into political correctness. Hints that breastfeeding by poorly nourished mothers shortchanges the nursing baby are sprinkled throughout the book–from pages devoted to dealing with fussy babies to the admission that breastfed babies are subject to tooth decay. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding needs an overhaul and a change of focus–from the promotion of breastfeeding for breastfeeding’s sake to breastfeeding for healthy babies.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2002.