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The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding

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Pediatricians say you should but it's okay if you don't. The hospital says, "Breast is best," but sends you home with formula "just in case." Your sister-in-law says, "Of course you should!" Your mother says, "I didn't, and you turned out just fine." Celebrities are photographed nursing in public, yet breastfeeding mothers are asked to cover up in malls and on airplanes. Pediatricians say you should but it's okay if you don't. The hospital says, "Breast is best," but sends you home with formula "just in case." Your sister-in-law says, "Of course you should!" Your mother says, "I didn't, and you turned out just fine." Celebrities are photographed nursing in public, yet breastfeeding mothers are asked to cover up in malls and on airplanes. Breastfeeding is a private act, yet everyone has an opinion about it. How did feeding our babies get so complicated? Journalist and infant health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers breaks breastfeeding out of the realm of "personal choice" and shows our broader connection to an industrialized food system that begins at birth, the fallout of feminist ideals, and the federal policies that are far from family friendly. The Big Letdown uncovers the multibillion-dollar forces battling to replace mothers' milk and the failure of the medical establishment to protect infant health. Weaving together research and personal stories with original reporting on medicine, big pharma, and hospitals, Kimberly Seals Allers shows how mothers and babies have been abandoned by all the forces that should be supporting families from the start--and what we can do to help.


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Pediatricians say you should but it's okay if you don't. The hospital says, "Breast is best," but sends you home with formula "just in case." Your sister-in-law says, "Of course you should!" Your mother says, "I didn't, and you turned out just fine." Celebrities are photographed nursing in public, yet breastfeeding mothers are asked to cover up in malls and on airplanes. Pediatricians say you should but it's okay if you don't. The hospital says, "Breast is best," but sends you home with formula "just in case." Your sister-in-law says, "Of course you should!" Your mother says, "I didn't, and you turned out just fine." Celebrities are photographed nursing in public, yet breastfeeding mothers are asked to cover up in malls and on airplanes. Breastfeeding is a private act, yet everyone has an opinion about it. How did feeding our babies get so complicated? Journalist and infant health advocate Kimberly Seals Allers breaks breastfeeding out of the realm of "personal choice" and shows our broader connection to an industrialized food system that begins at birth, the fallout of feminist ideals, and the federal policies that are far from family friendly. The Big Letdown uncovers the multibillion-dollar forces battling to replace mothers' milk and the failure of the medical establishment to protect infant health. Weaving together research and personal stories with original reporting on medicine, big pharma, and hospitals, Kimberly Seals Allers shows how mothers and babies have been abandoned by all the forces that should be supporting families from the start--and what we can do to help.

30 review for The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    I came into this book with my own bias (from the data I have collected, I am going to prioritize my decision to breastfeed and am very lucky to have a situation that will make that choice more feasible) and my own ignorance (I have never had a child before so I have never gone through the full decision-making process to feed a newborn). Even with this philosophical alignment with the author, I am disappointed by the approach the author took in making the arguments in support of breast feeding as I came into this book with my own bias (from the data I have collected, I am going to prioritize my decision to breastfeed and am very lucky to have a situation that will make that choice more feasible) and my own ignorance (I have never had a child before so I have never gone through the full decision-making process to feed a newborn). Even with this philosophical alignment with the author, I am disappointed by the approach the author took in making the arguments in support of breast feeding as it lacks credibility. In particular, the following choices the author made when writing the book make it impossible for me to recommend this book: - complete lack of footnotes for each statement written as if it is a fact - inclusion of tobacco industry history even though that leads to extreme analogies - over-reliance on a few select narratives that are framed as if they prove facts

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Heare Watts

    I won an uncorrected proof advanced reading copy of this book during a Goodreads giveaway. I am under no obligation to leave a review or rating and do so voluntarily. So that others may also enjoy this book, I am paying it forward by donating it to my local library.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    I won this book from Good Reads. Horrible book, claims feminism "ruined" breast feeding! HUH? Also poorly written, disjointed sentences. Don't waste your time!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Basore

    This book was a big let down. This author needs to get over herself. She has an angry and entitled tone in her writing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Arredondo

    The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding by Kimberly Seals Allers. Much anticipated for me. I breastfed all 4 of my children. My oldest I breastfed him exclusively for a 1 and a half. Then went on to feed him another 6 months with the breast while trying to ween him onto milk and more solid food feedings. I breastfed my daughter for 6 months and then supplemented for another 6 months on formula when she began having gastrointestinal The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding by Kimberly Seals Allers. Much anticipated for me. I breastfed all 4 of my children. My oldest I breastfed him exclusively for a 1 and a half. Then went on to feed him another 6 months with the breast while trying to ween him onto milk and more solid food feedings. I breastfed my daughter for 6 months and then supplemented for another 6 months on formula when she began having gastrointestinal issues. I breastfed my other son for about 8 months. And my last kiddie, I breastfed him for a year and a half…actually almost the full two years. Exhaustion can’t even describe the true nature of it all. I wanted to read this book because I know a lot about the experience of breastfeeding but do I really know the facts, the data, the information behind it all. Yes and no…but this book will determine that somewhat. Obviously this book is all about the breastfeeding mommas. If this book does not sell you on the idea….I don’t know what will. Mind you..I did not enjoy it as much as I would have liked to enjoy it. I found myself a bit daunted by all the facts and figures…OMG, I had to skim through the chapter MILK MONEY. I was seeing numbers, and ratios and percentages in my nightmares but that’s just me being a fiction lover…sometimes the hard facts and data can be a bit too much. I LOVED the Introduction. It was like a Pep Rally..getting me all excited for the rest of the book. After that I fumbled back and forth with being fully engrossed in what I was learning..and keeping myself from napping while sitting up. The fact is…you will learn something from this book. It is an eye opener.It validated my choice to breastfeed all these years. I was relieved for that. I realized things I did not before..and that’s with years and years of breastfeeding experience behind my belt. Obviously you can never know it all about anything…there is always more to learn. However, I’ve reached the end of my breastfeeding days and so I don’t know if the info was as valuable as it would have been if I had read this before. I also don’t know if I really grasped anything inspirational from this book. Yes…it’s pro breastfeeding but it was more fact fact fact…than inspire inspire inspire. I had to trudge through the book more often than not. Still, I think this book needs to be in every ‘mothers-to-be’ prep bag. I think it should be bought by all OB-GYNs and given to mommies on their first pre-natal visit. Thanks as always to the wonderful peeps here at goodreads for providing me the opportunity to receive this book for free in exchange for an honest review to which I gladly and voluntarily gave.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    "The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding" by Kimberly Seals Allers is a must read for any new or soon to be moms! This book gives the truth about breastfeeding and the choices and hardships the breastfeeding mother will likely face. I found the first four chapters insightful with facts on the benefits of breastfeeding, information on the creation of formula and how it's regulated, and eye opening connections between hospitals/pedestrians "The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding" by Kimberly Seals Allers is a must read for any new or soon to be moms! This book gives the truth about breastfeeding and the choices and hardships the breastfeeding mother will likely face. I found the first four chapters insightful with facts on the benefits of breastfeeding, information on the creation of formula and how it's regulated, and eye opening connections between hospitals/pedestrians and formula companies. However, the last few chapters of this book didn't capture my attention as well as I felt it didn't give as much insightful information on why breastfeeding is better or was just reiterating what was already stated. As a first time mom, I wish I had read this before delivering my baby. I knew some of the reasons why breastfeeding is best, and planned to breastfeed. Luckily I delivered in a hospital conducive to breastfeeding with automatic skin-to-skin contact and available lactation consultants, so I received a good start. But on my second doctor visit I experienced exactly what this book discribed...my baby had not gained enough weight in comparison to the formula growth chart and I was told to supplement. My gut told me it wasn't a good idea, but I tried it and could tell my baby wasn't sucking as good anymore and also began spitting up...so I didn't supplement anymore and up feedings to every hour or hour and a half instead of the recommended two hours. At the next doctor visit she had gained and supplementing wasn't suggested again. If I had read this book before this situation happened I would have been confident in my choice and would have spared myself the breakdowns and defeat that occurred and would've been able to defend my choice to exclusively breastfeed to unsupportive family and friends. I have now successfully breastfed for six months, but have gained knowledge and confidence to continue to breastfeed and defend my choice from reading "The Big Letdown: The True Story of How Politics, Feminism, and Big Business Changed Breastfeeding" by Kimberly Seals Allers!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    As a breastfeeding mother and birth worker, I thought I already knew what this book but was going to contain. Obviously, that is an arrogant way to approach nonfiction reading and I was way wrong. I already knew the health benefits of breastfeeding, but I really had no idea about the vast influence of baby formula companies on hospitals, pediatricians, scientific research, and parents. I was absolutely floored by the many ways in which big business undermines women's confidence in their own As a breastfeeding mother and birth worker, I thought I already knew what this book but was going to contain. Obviously, that is an arrogant way to approach nonfiction reading and I was way wrong. I already knew the health benefits of breastfeeding, but I really had no idea about the vast influence of baby formula companies on hospitals, pediatricians, scientific research, and parents. I was absolutely floored by the many ways in which big business undermines women's confidence in their own bodies to feed their young, which is their biological right. This book also helped me understand how the over sexualization of the breast makes it more difficult for women to do what their bodies were made to do. More than just opening my eyes to the many ways in which our society does not support breastfeeding mothers, this book helped me re-frame my own core perspective on mothering in a patriarchal culture. Kimberly Seals Allers will influence my work with new mothers and families going forward and I am grateful to have found her. Here is one of many favorite passages, "I call it 'The Liberation Mystique' for today's generation. It's an equally damaging and subversive message-this idea that we achieve freedom by feeding our babies inferior artificial products and by getting back to working like men. It's an equally powerful malaise of discontent. We will never be fulfilled until all of our selves - our maternal selves, our sexual selves, our lactating selves, our career-climbing selves- are acknowledged."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    While I don’t think this was a total letdown like some readers, I wish the author had done one last edit. Its so repetitive and it makes it hard to get through. I want to support her arguments, but is it, as she points out, because I’m already a pro-breastfeeder? I’m with her on the need to fight for better work options for breastfeeding and all new mamas and parents, on the need to fight the heavy marketing campaigns and greed of formula companies, and a general need to review why we put up While I don’t think this was a total letdown like some readers, I wish the author had done one last edit. Its so repetitive and it makes it hard to get through. I want to support her arguments, but is it, as she points out, because I’m already a pro-breastfeeder? I’m with her on the need to fight for better work options for breastfeeding and all new mamas and parents, on the need to fight the heavy marketing campaigns and greed of formula companies, and a general need to review why we put up with work (and a lot of life) designed for and about men. And I want a movement for breastfeeding! But I wish she’d spent more on talking to people about what we could do, at least as much as she talked about the structural issues which make breastfeeding so hard. Breastfeeding is hard. But it’s also an amazing experience that I want to continue, two years on and beyond as long as my baby wants it. After reading this I can’t help but tell every pregnant mama to throw out every formula advertisement and free sample, find support and don’t let the hospital staff get in between them and their babies in the first 48 hours of life, so their natural “let down” can happen. It’s amazing how much we women assume it’s our bodies that are the problem.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey Klick

    Definitely a great insight to the issues currently surrounding breastfeeding. The best part of the book for me was learning all of the science and history of formula. It really makes you think twice about it and want to delve deeper into the subject than what the book gets into. This author is clearly biased towards one side versus the other, but I thought the title alone made that pretty clear. There were two spots in the book where different cultures/races are explored, but yet only Caucasians Definitely a great insight to the issues currently surrounding breastfeeding. The best part of the book for me was learning all of the science and history of formula. It really makes you think twice about it and want to delve deeper into the subject than what the book gets into. This author is clearly biased towards one side versus the other, but I thought the title alone made that pretty clear. There were two spots in the book where different cultures/races are explored, but yet only Caucasians and African Americans are used in those sections; it really just came off badly and like the author was trying to incite more emotion by adding in some racial content, which is obviously a hot topic in the country right now. Overall I feel like I really learned a lot and it's definitely information that I've already been sharing with my family and friends. A true eye opener when it comes to formula and gives everyone a little something to think about. *I won an advanced reader copy in a Goodreads giveaway.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    I was really looking forward to this book, but unfortunately, it let me down (lol). I don't dispute the evil practices of big pharma/big formula- Nestle, etc. They are only looking to make money and they have very little care for actual people. However, I found the author's bias in this book incredibly distracting. I've read other books that review some of the same studies this book does, such as the PROBIT study, of breastfeeding mother's in Belarus. For example, Emily Oster finds different I was really looking forward to this book, but unfortunately, it let me down (lol). I don't dispute the evil practices of big pharma/big formula- Nestle, etc. They are only looking to make money and they have very little care for actual people. However, I found the author's bias in this book incredibly distracting. I've read other books that review some of the same studies this book does, such as the PROBIT study, of breastfeeding mother's in Belarus. For example, Emily Oster finds different takeaways from the same study. There are references at the back of the book, but no footnotes in the text, so how is a reader supposed to find the related evidence to a certain claim? This really annoyed me. And what about research saying that women who want to and plan to breastfeed but can't, have higher rates of PPD? This book won't help them. I didn't finish this book but I skimmed most chapters and only read one example with any kind of nuance to a mother's baby feeding experience.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kristian

    I read this due to my interest in breastfeeding as a public health issue. It validated my decision to breastfeed my own daughter, and I gobbled up the facts and statistics. This book seems geared toward those that already feel a certain way. If a woman has already made up her mind on her own breastfeeding journey (or lack thereof), I don’t really know if this book is going to inspire them to change their ways. Nonetheless- the information does inspire me to support policies and politicians that I read this due to my interest in breastfeeding as a public health issue. It validated my decision to breastfeed my own daughter, and I gobbled up the facts and statistics. This book seems geared toward those that already feel a certain way. If a woman has already made up her mind on her own breastfeeding journey (or lack thereof), I don’t really know if this book is going to inspire them to change their ways. Nonetheless- the information does inspire me to support policies and politicians that value longer, paid family leave over the bullshit nothingness that the US has in place now.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sharron

    * I received a free copy of the book through Goodreads. Took me forever to read, because it made me so mad. From the very beginning I recalled boycotting Nestle as a kid because they were encouraging people to use dirty water in Africa for formula. It was amazing to read about it as an adult later in the book. I plan to leave my copy of the book at my ob-gyn's office with a note inside to please leave it at an ob-gyn or ped office when finished.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    3 1/2 stars. I read "The Politics of Breastfeeding" in the 1990's. How discouraging to see everything from that book is still true today. The insidious ways the formula companies undermine breastfeeding, and the ways physicians go along for the ride (and the money) are disheartening. The section on birthing and twilight sleep were infuriating. When men took over controlling how women birth, it all went downhill.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aisha

    An eye-opener to the baby forumla 'food' industry Ms Seals Allers has definitely done a great job. The research detail was phenomenal. I would recommend this book for highlighting the criminal behaviour of baby food formula manufacturers in their war against humanity.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Great story of our devaluation of our society and family.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cristin

    Very interesting information. Put together concisely along with personal stories. I plan on looking in to her sources at some point as well for my own research and interest in the topic.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Every woman should read this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    I won a copy of this book. I found this book an interesting read. I liked the in-depth look at the baby formula industry and breastfeeding. It really was eye-opening. Well worth reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Pyper

    Essential perspective for social change. It's not about #breastisbest and #fedisbest. It is about very real social structures that demand dismantling. Finally a voice that is familiar to my own.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Thank you Goodreads for this advanced copy. If you follow the debating over breast feeding, there won't be much new here. The book provides a good catch up if you are new to the issue. I wish there would have been more context to the history or more evidence that the claims were purposeful rather than timing issues. Many of the history claims were one sided only.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Racine

    GOODREADS GIVEAWAY WINNER* This book was very informative and I learned about many things that I never knew influenced breastfeeding before. Overall the book was very well written.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Brooks

    This is a interesting book that all mothers should read, wish I had read this when I was younger it enlightens you to big companies trying to replace mothers milk and the companies behind it. A very informative book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    April Ochieng

    This book was eye-opening and completely mind-boggling. I learned more about the history of breastfeeding and formula. We, as women, deserve to have a true choice, and I think Allers does a great job showing how we don't really have a choice when the culture and odds are stacked against us. I'm even more of a lactivist than before.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Books Bottles Babies

    I really enjoyed this honest and in-depth look at the politics of breastfeeding. I think the ideas presented in this book may be hard to accept for some people, so this is not something I would regularly recommend to my clients (I'm a breastfeeding counselor and doula). However, I think that these topics are extremely important to be aware of and to understand so I will be encouraging my students who are training to be Douglas/breastfeeding counselors to read this. I would also recommend it I really enjoyed this honest and in-depth look at the politics of breastfeeding. I think the ideas presented in this book may be hard to accept for some people, so this is not something I would regularly recommend to my clients (I'm a breastfeeding counselor and doula). However, I think that these topics are extremely important to be aware of and to understand so I will be encouraging my students who are training to be Douglas/breastfeeding counselors to read this. I would also recommend it highly to anyone who is open to understanding this important and sometimes controversial topic.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hanna Newby

    The author made some intriguing and even startling points, but some of her logic seemed a bit far-fetched, and it was hard for me to give her fact checking full credibility -- there is a fair amount of bias. That being said, I definitely will do more research. This book would be a great introduction to breastfeeding, as well as other feminist issues. All in all, I won this in a Goodreads giveaway, and I am glad I did.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Suzi

    had no idea of how the formula companies push their products. i gave birth to my 2nd child 30 years ago, my daughter is still breastfeeding her 4th child at 12 months and my daughter in law has breastfed 1 of her children and is expecting her third. we have each encontered shaming in public and have all received the formula bag from the hospital. this book really opened my eyes

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richard Mactough

    The Book brings something real and essential to the beginning of motherhood. Breastfeeding is a nurturing and essential process of birth. Capitalist America has a huge advantage in selling alternatives to breastfeeding although it's not better. Allers has done great research and used personal experience to motivate her book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads First Reads. The book was filled with interesting information and research about breastfeeding and the control capitalist America has over it. It shows how they try to make mothers feel bad and shamed while breastfeeding their children.

  29. 4 out of 5

    M.

    Interesting point of view on breastfeeding.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan Walker

    A open and honest look at how Mother's are made to feel bad when the breast feed. The Author goes in to great detail about how our society looks at breastfeeding.

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