Berghahn Books, Oxford (2013)
ISBN: 9780857457585 (hb)
Reviewed by Eimer Sparham, University of Leicester
This book examines the experiences of women who are members of an international pro breastfeeding organization called La Leche League (LLL). The data is gathered through in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in two separate LLL groups – one based in London and the other in Paris. It focuses on a sample of mothers who practice ‘attachment mothering’, which includes close child proximity by baby wearing, co-sleeping and also on-cue long-term breastfeeding.
Faircloth explores how these women experience motherhood as a vocation or ‘identity work’, and how they specifically view breastfeeding as part of this. Whilst discussing this Faircloth explains how these mothers also argue that breastfeeding is superior, natural and the ‘right’ approach to adopt to feed their infants, asserting ‘breast is best’.
The book highlights that ‘infant feeding is a peculiarly sensitive issue’ (Faircloth 2013:9), whilst also arguing that attachment mothers are both vocal and militant about the benefits of breastfeeding and long-term breastfeeding. Whilst examining these women’s experiences and also their breastfeeding decisions, the book sets out to understand the reasons why the label militant is adopted to describe their mothering approaches. Faircloth argues that breastfeeding is a highly moralized affair that this therefore places mothers into apposing groups of child-centered or mother-centered forms of care.
The first chapter of the book provides an overview of intensive mothering by looking at this from a UK perspective. It then moves on to discuss issues linked to the concept of identity work, and what this therefore means for intensive mothering. The second chapter examines the relationship between infant feeding and motherhood, whilst also considering the links that exist between the intersections with government and the creation of policies around breastfeeding.
Chapter three outlines the methodological approach adopted whilst undertaking the research. Whilst doing this, it also presents insightful and rich data findings about the women and their breastfeeding experiences, and why they choose to breastfeed for extended periods of time.
The fourth and fifth chapters provide a useful overview and history of LLL and attachment parenting. This is achieved by examining the underpinning philosophy of LLL, whilst also discussing its overall aims and objectives. Chapters six, seven and eight proceed to examine the strategies that these women adopt in order to rationalize their decisions to undertake long-term breastfeeding.
The final chapter of the book presents the findings from the fieldwork collected in Paris. Whilst examining the French data, it emerges through the findings that the London LLL group of mothers were more intensive and militant in their attachment parenting approaches when compared to their Paris counterparts. The chapter argues that these differences can be explained through cultural and societal variances between the two countries. The discussion highlights that, unlike in the UK, breastfeeding in not viewed as a public health issue in France, and that it is only recently that more positive attitudes towards pro breastfeeding are emerging - but that this is mainly reserved for the educated and middle-classes. Faircloth also notes that a reason why this specific perspective has gained credence in France is because intensive mothering is viewed as a threat to the feminist cause and also female liberty.
This is a fascinating topic and a very interesting study and would be a worthwhile and relevant read to those interested in research linked to motherhood, parenthood, family and gender. The book is well written, and the author adopts an engaging writing style that is easy to follow. The author also offers her own personal reflections and anecdotes, which act to provide an honesty and authenticity to the narrative, and which also help to provide an interesting rationale for approaching and developing the book. The quotations used in the book provide a useful and real insight into these women’s experiences, as their mindsets and attitudes towards breastfeeding really brought the book to life.
The appeal of this book is clearly far reaching, be it from an individual and general interest in the subject matter, or to gain a more theoretical knowledge and understanding of the debates it touches on and explores.
To conclude, from my own personal standpoint, I found the book really thought-provoking, and I was clearly immersed as it engaged me on many levels - firstly as mother, secondly as a PhD student and finally as an academic.