Review: Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding

Hey! It’s World Breastfeeding Week! Since I didn’t know there was one this is just a coincidence but I thought it would be a good idea to get this review finished to honour it.


I already loved Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth so I admit being predisposed to liking her Guide to Breastfeeding – and I did. In fact, I kind of loved it and would now love to be able to buy a copy for every woman I know who plans on having a baby. It would be wise for every woman to read it – whether she is ever going to have a  baby or not because there is so much knowledge about breastfeeding lost from years of it not being supported. It is no longer instinctual (for the mothers in developed countries at least, it certainly wasn’t for me) and needs to be re-learned.

My feeling towards this book is similar to how I felt after reading Toni Wexler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility – empowered and in awe of my own body. That is another book I recommend to all women (and have bought for/lent to many) – whether they plan on using it for birth control*, getting pregnant or just want to know about their own bodies. Tracking my cycle opened my eyes to a number of things; like how about once a month I always thought I was coming down with something – but it turned out that during the same time in my cycle I would be more worn down than others and just needed to take it easy for those two days.

However,  this is a review of  Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. One of the things I like most about Gaskin is that she seems pretty down to earth for an almost-commune-living hippy midwife. As a midwife she is much more into natural remedies and home birth than a medicalized version of either – but she also says things like: It is far better to have a doula than to write out a birth plan, because labor rarely proceeds according to anyone’s plan. (Much like life.) When talking about extended breastfeeding and time to wean she also says: don’t be a martyr to your baby – if you haven’t taught them proper nursing etiquette and nursing isn’t enjoyable anymore then don’t do it (past the first year). She also talks about how it is a relationship that has to be beneficial for both mother and baby. Gaskin is a big advocate of natural childbirth (obviously) and how it can help your nursing relationship but she gives LOTS of advice on how to establish a nursing relationship with your baby no matter how the little one comes into this world and I think that her advice section is what is going to help many women out in the early days of breastfeeding.

The book is both calming – because of all the problem solving advice for those about to embark on breastfeeding – and a little bit angry making. The anger bit comes from the obvious lack of support there still is out there for those who want to breastfeed and the hold the formula companies have on the medical industry. Moira and I got off to a rocky start but I found that there was lots of support in my city because I knew where to look for it before having Moira. This time I feel even more prepared and hope for a better (and, let’s hope, less painful) start – but who knows? Every baby is different – but at least I go into it knowing that it is something my body can do and that is a very empowering feeling. When I was in the hospital (2+ years ago) one of the nurses told me all the local hospitals were trying to become World Health Organization certified baby-friendly hospitals and to do so they needed to be pro-breastfeeding. However, no hospitals in my province – and few in my country or in the U.S. – are certified yet. I suspect part of this is their policy on rooming-in (which the WHO promotes and which the hospitals round me aren’t 100% keen on.)

This isn’t a big book (300 pages) but it contains a ton of information – more than I care to go into in one review. I think the biggest thing I got out of it is that in order to be successful you need support from those around you and from the medical industry. (Obviously what no one needs is judgement either way or preachy supermodels saying that it should be illegal for women to give their babies formula – yikes!)


*Personally I wouldn’t recommend using the Fertility Awareness Method as a means of birth control unless you are in an established relationship where the chance of having a baby isn’t that big of a deal (meaning: while I will teach my teenage daughters how to chart their cycles so they can learn about their bodies I will also be adamantly pro-pill if they want to have sex). I’ve had friends who have used it for years with great success until they actually wanted to get pregnant. The Mister and I, however, call it Baby Roulette.

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