Book review: Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding, by Madeleine Morris
The stated purpose of the book Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding is to debunk the myth that mothers should feel guilty if they do not breastfeed, and to provide objective, evidence-based information about bottle feeding and formula. It meets this second aim admirably, with clear and detailed sections on different formulas and tried and tested techniques. This final 45 pages of the book would be an extremely useful resource particularly for Breastfeeding Counsellors who are encountering an increasing number of questions and requests for support around formula.
The bulk of the book, however, features an army of straw men, and is written in a hectoring, defensive tone, with many statements about “lactivists” which border on being offensive. For an example of all of the above, see page 137 where the zealous lactivists deliberately manipulate and prey upon mothers’ emotions; page 138 where breastfeeding advocates’ real agenda is “to make formula feeding parents feel like shit;” and the jaw-dropping claim on page 88 that there is money to be made from breastfeeding support.
Morris’ writing is very much embedded in her personal experience of breastfeeding and her feelings about it, supported by her friend Dr Sasha Howard who also shares her own experience of breastfeeding as well as that of supporting families as a paediatrician. They exhort a change in message on feeding choices, asking for more realistic, nuanced antenatal breastfeeding education, to include more detail on formula feeding; and more compassion for mothers who do not breastfeed. If this sounds frustratingly familiar, that’s because this is very much in line with NCT’s current Infant Feeding Message Framework.
Unfortunately the way Morris presents this itself lacks nuance and understanding of how breastfeeding support works. She is deeply opposed to any language of risk, positing that rather than enabling informed choice, this language comes across as bullying and guilt-inducing. Reading this book made me doubt the validity of my own perspective on breastfeeding; could it really be true that the media is completely biased towards breastfeeding (p.90-96), that no celebrity ever makes a negative statement about her own breastfeeding experience (9.108), and that breastfeeding “advocates” wilfully misrepresent the research on breastmilk in order to pressure mothers (p.75)? Could my bias really be so deeply embedded that I don’t see this at all? Then I would definitely have to identify myself with the lactivists.
This book provides a great deal of material upon which to reflect. Morris’ sadness and anger about her own experience of breastfeeding and of not breastfeeding undermine her claims of objectivity. Much of this anger is directed towards breastfeeding supporters. She has had no difficulty in finding case studies: 15 of them, only three of which are about women who had no intention of breastfeeding. The others are women who were – in her words – “forced to bottle-feed.” (p.47). This seems a strong enough argument for not destroying women’s confidence in the people who could help them.
Where ‘Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding’ comes into its own is in the genuinely objective and useful practical section, but the preceding 150 pages are a tough read, and tell us nothing that we do not already know about perceptions of breastfeeding support.
Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of this book.
Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.