New Books :: On Breastfeeding, White Women, and Idealism, and Idealizing White Women Who Breastfeed (Slide Show)

I went to the library’s bookstore (if that makes any sense). There is a bookstore sponsored by the library that is filled with used texts, which I assume are donated or previous editions the library has since upgraded. I headed directly for the breastfeeding section, of course. The prices are fantastic. I ended up paying less than six dollars total for four books! Here are the titles, minus one not on the subject.


I was really excited to find these and immediately began devouring them, marking them with notes and comparing them with other recent reads until I began to notice the larger theme, one that I had noticed before but for some reason really stood out with this batch of books, that, of course put a damper on my excitement. It was a theme flooded with idealism and white culture, and idealizing white culture, and idealizing white womanhood. These texts are filled with white women, white families, white babies, and white ideas — ideas that disregard other experiences and traditions, and work at reinforcing racial isolation, dominance, and marginalization, showing that these ethnocentric views continue in pervasiveness, and that misrepresentation is far from over and extends to every part of our society. Breastfeeding is no different.

These ideal images that are seen as displaying a supposed standard of perfection have played a major role in the way dominant society has represented itself. This can be seen on a daily basis. White women have not been subjected to the misrepresentation other Women Of Color have experienced, since the strategy throughout history has been to place her as the central figure of womanhood, making her appear all that is to be glorified, desired, and envied. And regardless of the era or views on breastfeeding (which have changed drastically throughout generations), mainstream messages and support have focused on white beliefs and ideology.

For example, society’s overarching views on breastfeeding have teetered, going from a ritual with high regard, to a socially stigmatized act relegated to women in lower socio-economic statuses. During these different eras, it was the desires and experiences of white women that were taken into consideration and spread throughout society. When breastfeeding was seen as the only way to nurture an infant it was an act that many women participated in. But when the act became despised by white women who were most often the ones, because of racism, in more dominant and higher socio-economic statuses and positions in society, it became viewed as a demeaning task that these [delicate] women could not and would not subject themselves to. This was a large influence in  wet nursing legacies where wet nurses were mostly Women Of Color until infant formula was introduced, which replaced this, and it was a tremendous force in otherizing these women, since beliefs erupted that unwanted personality characteristics could pass from milk to infant.

Today, culture along with science and the fact that milk is produced in a woman’s breasts, have proven that breastfeeding is the single healthiest form of nourishment for most infant children, so white women pervade the spotlight, which sends messages that continue work to try and signify her as the only loving, informative, figure who is concerned with the health and well-being of her infant. But if  breastfeeding an infant were a really a true measure of virtue, Latina women should dominate these areas since they breastfeed at higher rates than any other group, and Native Americans build and reinforce cultural legacies in their breastfeeding traditions. But their culture and methods are far removed from these texts since in order for dominance to continue, images, practices, and traditions of whiteness must continue to be present throughout breastfeeding society and breastfeeding texts — using white women, their looks, their breastfeeding types, and their experiences as the prototype.

I’m sure many will argue that the mechanics of breastfeeding are simple — placing a breast inside of a baby’s mouth in order to latch on is the main idea, and while those mechanics are helpful, this lack of Color serves to misrepresent us by not representing us — showing that we do not value breastfeeding or that it is not an important part of our culture — at least that’s the buzz I’ve been hearing. To push that further, of course these omitting tactics are strategic, and reinscribe racist and colonizing notions, marginalization, and ideology that criticizes us, our culture, and ignores our legacies, placing us outside of the breastfeeding circle with ideas that have a strong impact, inside and outside our communities. They are also ones that, without understanding and challenge, will not change, and will not allow us to arrive at a place where we can learn to understand to celebrate infant and breastfeeding culture through the many different cultural and racial lenses it is celebrated and experienced. That is not acceptable, so this must change.

This slideshow are covers from books I found when I searched google for ‘breastfeeding books.’ I think of all the texts only about two or three had an image of a Woman Of Color and one was a government agency, WIC (Women, Infants, Children) pamphlet. 

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11 thoughts on “New Books :: On Breastfeeding, White Women, and Idealism, and Idealizing White Women Who Breastfeed (Slide Show)

  1. As you pointed out, the marginalized or complete lack of representation of people of colour is nothing new in American media of all kinds. Although many ads have tried to "Benetton"-up by presenting a more colourful array of people, it is rare that you see ads in major mainstream media (or films, television shows, etc) with an exclusively black, latino, or asian cast, unless the

  2. First off, I love your 'Bennetton it up phrase'! Definitely a new one and fits perfect! :O)

    "We think what is white is for everyone, but what is of another race is of interest only to that race" — Excellent! That is a part of how domination works!! Everyone is supposed to follow along this same trajectory and have these same thoughts and experiences, and disregard

  3. So, what do you think of the Huggins book? I read it as my first assignment in the CBI program and I appreciate the book, minus a couple of references that I thought were – like you said – racistly white. Or whitely racist. What I liked most about it was that it was pretty sterile and direct, just a book on breastfeeding, and that was refreshing. Unlike the Sears book, and even The Womanly Art,

  4. Hi Satori,

    babies absolutely do go to breast like puppies to teats. It is their first and most basic instinct. When held in their mother's arms, they will turn their little heads and begin gaping their mouths, trying desperately to find that yummy milk they smell. It genuinely breaks my heart that so many women refuse to allow their babies the one thing they want more than

  5. The problem I have with these texts is they only look at breastfeeding along a single-trajectory and makes it seem as if every experience and tradition is the same. They talk about things in such an idyllic way, and we know that not everyone has it like that!!

    I know my experience is limited, but I believe the amount of exposure I do have is sufficient enough to see that there are

  6. Great post. I get pissed off at the idyllic perfect white women they put in there, too. I wish the breastfeeding pics in breastfeeding books were more realistic. Like the ones we take of ourselves when breastfeeding. I’d like to hear more about the issues with the la leche league book. I love my LLL group and am thinking about becoming a leader someday.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Stella, though I’m making my best attempt to understand why you have chosen to affirm this post here that critiques the pervasiveness of whiteness within these texts as opposed to the criticism I received from your comment on the blog post titled “Prescriptions REQUIRED for Infant Formula!: Say WHAT?” calling me a racist. Both center and criticize the celebration of whiteness and insular white people and this same idea of whiteness that is the foundation of privilege which inevitably plays a role in the structure of our society — and also plays a large part in our breastfeeding outcomes. Only difference is one (that post) used a certain example — an individual, while the other (this post) uses a larger pool. Did I miss something?

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