About the Author
Gabrielle Palmer is a nutritionist and a campaigner. She was a breastfeeding counsellor in the 1970s and helped establish the UK pressure group Baby Milk Action. In the early 1980s she lived and worked as a volunteer in Mozambique. She has written, taught and campaigned on infant feeding issues, particularly the unethical marketing of baby foods.
In the 1990s she co-directed the International Breastfeeding: Practice and Policy course at The Institute of Child Health in London until she went to live in China for two years. She has worked independently for various health and development agencies, including serving as HIV and Infant Feeding Officer for UNICEF New York. She recently worked at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where she had originally studied nutrition. She is a mother and a grandmother.
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chapter 1: why breastfeeding is political (excerpt)
If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food, a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by consumers' needs, the announcement of this find would send its shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence, yet they form the least wealthy and the least powerful half of humanity.
As subjects of research, breastfeeding and breastmilk have attracted much attention during recent decades, yet as academic careers thrive on discoveries of how breastfeeding works and what breastmilk contains, women and their babies are still prevented from fulfilling this unique relationship. As knowledge about breastfeeding increases, so do global sales of artificial milks and feeding bottles. This may surprise those who live where breastfeeding is still part of the culture or where well-educated women have access to support, information and their babies. There are policy documents, promotional initiatives and media attention in many countries. However, all over the world women are impeded from protecting their own and their babies' health, and often survival, because of factors beyond their control.
Why, after about a million years of survival, has one of the principal evolutionary characteristics by which we identify ourselves as mammals become so damaged? Have women been freed from a time-wasting biological tyranny to lead nobler, more fulfilling and more equal lives? In this book I examine the political reasons for a situation which has a profound effect on the whole world from the major economic effects of squandering a natural resource to the individual misery of a sick child or an unhappy woman.
Why is it that whether we were breastfed ourselves, or breastfeed our own children, depends on our social and economic position? How is it that in many societies, 100% of poor, undernourished women all breastfeed easily, while in others, groups of privileged, well-nourished women believe they cannot? Why is the right to breastfeed fought for so vehemently by some women and rejected so forcefully by others, often according to their class, education or society? And why, if women participate in the modern economic structures which are claimed to be for the benefit of us all, must the breastfeeding relationship be curtailed and restricted? For many women, what could be a simple compromise becomes an agonising decision.