Friday, February 26, 2010

Dou-la-la's Top Three Breastfeeding Books

Back from Family Travel 2010, Jaunt #1 and raring to get posting again.

As it happens, the travel provided a perfect segue: while I was visiting some relatives, a new mom-to-be asked me for a breastfeeding book recommendation, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to get to this for awhile. Since I've gotten multiple requests for recommendations in a number of areas (birth, pregnancy, parenting in general, and thusandsuch), I'll make this a series. But today, let's start with la leche.

1. Hands-down, no contest, for my money, the best breastfeeding book out there is . . . "Breastfeeding Made Simple", by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and Nancy Mohrbacher.

Why do I love it so? First, the information is spot-on, as one would expect from a book written by not one, but TWO IBCLCs (this is the gold standard for lactation consultants). They pull no punches and give the most accurate, thorough advice I have encountered in a single source. Second, I love the way this is organized. Some breastfeeding books I have received have good information and decent advice, but one would never sit down and read it from cover to cover. Rather, the inclination is to skim them initially and then cherry-pick whatever you happen to need at the moment as issues come up. There's nothing wrong with using books as wonderreferences (in fact, choice #2 falls much more into this category), but a lot of essential information can be missed this way.

Here, the authors lay out Seven Natural Laws of Breastfeeding, under which everything ultimately falls, and it flows as a wonderfully readable whole out of this structure. The natural laws are:

1. Babies Are Hardwired to Breastfeed
2. Mother's Body is Baby’s Natural Habitat
3. Better Feel and Flow Happen in the Comfort Zone
4. More Breastfeeding at First Means More Milk Later
5. Every Breastfeeding Couple Has Its Own Rhythm
6. More Milk Out = More Milk Made
7. Children Wean Naturally

I love this, because really, in essence, these laws cover everything. I do think new mothers often suffer from information overload, and this can be particularly true when it comes to breastfeeding. And, as I've often seen struggling moms bemoan, isn't this supposed to come naturally? So how come I have to read all these instructions and learn all these techniques and remember all these facts? This approach, looking at everything through the natural laws, brings it back to nature - and crucially, appeals to the right brain. Information overload is very much a left-brained circumstance, and breastfeeding is very much a right-brained activity. The authors themselves explain this here.

Yes, they then go into detail with how each law applies to real life situations, from the basics through common and not-so-common problems, but if every mom really took each of the laws to heart as-is, she's already setting herself up for success. I'm certainly not saying she might not need and want some more information - I'm a big fan of information, hence, this post, and hence, my overabundant library and praise of lactation support when needed. I do think that when the going gets tough, sometimes keeping things as simple as possible is key, and I absolutely love the simple essence of the Seven Laws.

It's also well-written, period. I found it easy to understand and very warm and relatable. Once complaint I have heard was that they tend to be anti-formula. It's true that they are forthright about the risks of artificial feeding, but I never caught any hint of judgment from them, certainly not when it comes to the minority of women who truly cannot breastfeed. They are also more than aware that inadequate support and bad advice has jeopardized the best intentions of women who really did give it their best effort, and this is expressed compassionately. And honestly, I would be disappointed and frankly perplexed by any breastfeeding book that was pro-formula. I don't expect a vegetarian cookbook to be pro-meat (not an airtight analogy, but you catch my drift).

My sole criticism is a very simple one: the lack of an index! This drove me a tiny bit crazy - I need to be able to look things up quickly and easily, even if a book is more than just a reference. But on that very note, I have good news, thanks to Kendall-Tackett befriending me on Facebook - they are currently at work on a second edition of the book, coming soon, which will indeed feature an index! I guess I wasn't the only curmudgeon dependent on them. Their website has some great resources on it too, including things impossible to include in a book, like latch videos.

In short, if you buy only ONE book about breastfeeding, this would do you very, very well. I always like to have multiple sources (to say the least), but I realize not everyone is a huge nerd on the this and related topics.

2. Second in line is "The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers" by Dr. Jack Newman.

Unlike the other two on my list, I can't say that this is a great sit-down-and-read-start-to-finish book, but it IS an excellent, thorough, accurate resource. It's also very interesting, for those interested in breastfeeding as a topic as well as an activity, to read about his experience with breastfeeding over the years as a pediatrician. Support from the medical community has come a long way in recent years (though it still has a long way to go), and it's quite something to see what the changes have been like from the 'inside'.

As you would expect, the book is chockablock with solid medical advice and steadfast faith in the power of the breastfeeding dyad. Getting the latch correct solves a multitude of problems for most mothers, and he correspondingly spends a good deal of time on the matter. Dr. Newman also has an excellent website with good videos, by the way. If you're simply a mother looking for one good, solid overview, I would say the other two on the list would be better choices, but pairing this with another book is perfect if you can swing it. And for birth/baby/boob professionals, I think it's a must for your library.

3. Finally, a surprising entry: "So That's What They're For" by Janet Tamaro.

I ignored this book for a long, long time. Years. It just struck me as a book that would be silly or even flip about the topic, and I thought the title and cover way too cutesy for me. I still don't LOVE the cover, but guess what? The book itself is, in fact, very, very good. Of the three favorites here, it is the most purely enjoyable, and contrary to my prejudices, actually delivers excellent information. Tamaro's sense of humor is scattered throughout without overdoing it - it's just the right mix of lighthearted and informative. Best of all, it really lends itself to reading cover to cover - it's as close as a breastfeeding manual can get to a page-turner.

Quibbles: Some of the information is a little out of date: for one thing, HIV recommendations have changed since publication (it's definitely complex, but not necessarily contraindicated in all situations). Food allergies and the connection between mom's diet and baby's reactions gets glossed over - an important issue for some moms. Tamaro is also a bit underinformed about medications and breastfeeding, and takes a relatively conservative approach to the topic, when in fact many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, often unbeknownst to the prescribing physicians themselves, as they're simply untrained in lactation. (The Hale Guide is THE way to go here.)

But the complaints are very much outweighed by the very strong, solid basics, conveyed in an entertaining way - a tough balance to strike for many authors, and it's such an important one. Amusing or revealing anecdotes illustrate key points without overshadowing the core information, which is no easy feat. Tamaro does a good job covering some common challenges as well.

I'm so thankful I finally gave this a try, on a whim. It's a great fit for so many prospective and current breastfeeders out there - I'll be lending and recommending it liberally. What's that saying, you can't judge a something by its something? Yep.


  1. Thanks, I was wondering what BF book I would pick for my certification reading list!

  2. This was so very helpful. Thank you for your comprehensive overviews. I looked at several other "best breastfeeding books" lists & articles, and I've now made my decision!

    I'm going with 1 & 2. They also appeared on several other lists (but again, your explanations were exactly what I needed). :)