Booby Traps™ Series: Don’t judge a breastfeeding book by its cover

by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC | April 26, 2011 8:08 pm

This is the ninth in a series of posts on Booby Traps™ in pregnancy, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

A few weeks ago I told Best for Babes founders Bettina and Danielle that I wanted to write something for this series about the Booby Trap™ of bad breastfeeding advice in books.  After all, many of us are told that we should read a breastfeeding book during pregnancy, and many of us keep a breastfeeding book at our bedsides for reference (usually at 4:00 am) after our babies come.

I’ve read and reviewed nearly all the breastfeeding books there are, so I thought I knew what’s out there.  But I figured that I should head to the bookstore in case there was something I’d missed.

So last weekend I sat in the aisle of a chain bookstore and read through the breastfeeding sections of a number of current, popular books.  And after a while I found it hard to suppress the urge to pull aside the women browsing the pregnancy section and say “I don’t know you, but please don’t buy this book.”

Here’s a sampling of the misinformation I found in popular, mainstream books:

“You also should not breastfeed if you have a serious infection…In these cases, go to formula.” (You: Having a Baby, Roizen and Oz, 2009–yup, that’s Oprah’s Dr. Oz)

“It’s often hard to get a proper let down if you’re stressed, distracted, or breastfeeding on the go.  And without a proper letdown, your baby will not get enough to eat and will be hungry again in no time.”  (You: Having a Baby, Roizen and Oz, 2009)

A sidebar on the composition of breastmilk over the course of a feeding:  “Quencher: first 5 to 15 minutes; Foremilk: starts 5 to 8 minutes into the feed; Hindmilk: starts 15 to 18 minutes in to the feed.”  (Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Hogg, 2001)

“Most experts agree that six months of breastfeeding confers most of the medical benefits…” (Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, 8th ed., Spock and Needham, 2004)

“Between nine and twelve months the nutritional value of breastmilk drops…”  (On Becoming Babywise, Ezzo, 2006)

There were many things lacking in these books as well.  Each covered some common issues but left other significant ones out.  Some didn’t even mention the importance of seeking help from breastfeeding support people like lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, or breastfeeding peer counselors.  None of them were inspiring.  These books may or may not contain good information on other topics, but when it came to breastfeeding some of their information ranged from inadequate to truly bizarre.

This exercise helped me think through my criteria for choosing a good breastfeeding book.  I think that a good breastfeeding book should be:

1)  Evidence-based. The statements above have no basis in research, and several contradict the policies of health organizations that have reviewed the research.  You want a book based on what we actually know about breastfeeding, not personal opinion.  For this reason, I suggest looking for authors with some credentials in breastfeeding support, like an IBCLC, a La Leche League leader, or a member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

2)  Comprehensive. It’s no accident that I found the worst breastfeeding advice in general books on pregnancy and newborn care.  It’s just not possible to get all of the important breastfeeding information into one chapter.  To get a book that will take you from “why should I breastfeed?” all the way through weaning, I suggest getting a book solely about breastfeeding.

3)  Current. You’d think that not much would change in breastfeeding, but new discoveries, new best practices, and new resources are always emerging.  You want a book that reflects the latest and best ideas on how to make breastfeeding work, so look for one that was recently written or recently updated.

4)  Easy to navigate. This is a big one for me.  You want a book written by people who know that you’ll be searching, with bleary eyes, for “milk blister” at 4:00 am.  If the authors make it hard for you to find information, it doesn’t belong on your nightstand.  You want a well organized book with a comprehensive index. I give bonus points for books with good illustrations or photos for important things, like how to get a good latch.

5)  Inspiration. When I sat reading in the pregnancy section reading these books I tried to imagine the feeling I’d have about breastfeeding if I were pregnant and new to the idea.  And the feeling I had was decidedly lukewarm.  That’s not what you want.  While you don’t necessarily need a cheerleader to pop out of the book, a good book will help you understand the reasons why breastfeeding is important, help you put the challenges in perspective, and give you confidence in your ability to make it work.

A few books which meet these criteria, in my personal opinion, are The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition, and Breastfeeding Made Simple, 2nd edition, and The Nursing Mother’s Companion, 6th edition.

I know you have favorites of your own.  Which books have been a source of support for you?  What do you recommend to friends?  Which books do you tell friends to steer clear of?

Editor’s Note 4/28/11:  Click here to see the what our Facebook fans told us were the WORST books for breastfeeding moms!



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