MEDIA REVIEW Breastfeeding for Dummies By Sharon Perkins, RN, Carol Vannais, RN. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2004. 336 pages. $16.99, paperback. Reviewed by: Jennifer Drawbridge, CNM, MSN The problem starts with the title. As one midwife remarked, “Breastfeeding for Dummies? Is that really the title? That’s weird. Breastfeeding is an intelligent decision. Women who breastfeed are smart.” The jacket blurb tells us that this breastfeeding primer will be organized in “The Dummies Way: Explanations in plain English; Get in, get out information; Icons and other navigational aids; Tear-out cheat sheet; Top ten lists; A dash of humor and fun. Although this format seems to have worked for many topics—there are hundreds of Dummies volumes, from Windows XP for Dummies to Quilting for Dummies—it does not lend itself to breastfeeding education. The authors, registered nurses with experience in obstetrics, deliver the plain English as advertised and do an acceptable job conveying the basics of lactation. But the promise of quick information easily found is not kept. There are plenty of facts crammed into this volume, but the organization of the information is often baffling. For instance, “Eating a Vegetarian Diet” is tucked away in the “Is Breastfeeding Always Best?” chapter under the “Examining Your Lifestyle” heading, in a subsection, which also includes “Smoking Cigarettes,” “Getting Piercings,” and “Using Illegal Drugs.” The lavish use of icons only adds to the reader’s confusion. “Remember,” “warning,” and “tip” icons are intended to flag a fact or passage of particular significance. The icons appear with such frequency and are so randomly placed that they become meaningless and even misleading. Surely the average pregnant woman considering breastfeeding does not really need to “remember,” “For premature babies born after 30 weeks of gestation, the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a very serious gut infection that can
Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health • www.jmwh.org © 2005 by the American College of Nurse-Midwives Issued by Elsevier Inc.
cause death or loss of a large part of intestine from gangrene, is over 20 times higher in babies fed formula than in breastfed babies”? Is it a “warning” to which every new mother must pay heed that for a baby with PKU, a breast milk only diet will result in dangerously high Phe levels? In the section “Picking a Positive Obstetrician,” although they never mention midwifery or midwives, the authors wisely advise the reader that she must choose her provider carefully, because she “may not realize how susceptible to suggestion you are when you’re pregnant.” These same authors describe a vigorous latch with these words: “Sometimes, when the baby first latches on, you’ll feel a pain akin to his twisting your nose off your face.” Their depiction of arriving home with a new baby? “The baby is screaming as you pull up in front of your house. You and your partner have argued for the last 3 miles about whether you should stop the car and take the baby out of the car seat because she has slipped sideways. Your parents rush out of the house, snatch the baby out of your arms and leave you—an emotional, exhausted, milk-leaking wreck— crying on the sidewalk.” These unpleasant vignettes may be an attempt to provide the promised Dummies’ “dash of humor and fun,” but they don’t work as humor, and they fail miserably to convey why any woman would wish to breastfeed. These passages reflect a pervasive problem with Breastfeeding for Dummies. Too much time and too many pages of the book are devoted to breastfeeding discomforts and disasters. In the end, these negative images overshadow the information and anecdotes about happy, healthy breastfeeding. The truth is that breastfeeding is not a series of unfortunate lactation events worthy of Lemony Snicket. Nor is it a skill that can be mastered only by an elite few. Breastfeeding is not Windows and it’s not quilting. It’s an elegant, physiological process and a healthy and joyous way for mothers and babies to connect. As this book demonstrates, it’s clearly not for Dummies.