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The Breastfeeding Café: Mothers Share the Joys, Challenges, and Secrets of Nursing
By Barbara L. Behrmann, PhD

2005 The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor
Price: $19.95  paper 311 pgs

Reviewed by Nasima Pfaffl

A sociologist by training, Barbara Behrmann weaves together social insight, a touch of feminism, women’s own voices, and her own breastfeeding experiences to create a truly wonderful book. The Breastfeeding Café is well researched and built on interviews with a great diversity of mothers from across the country.  References and quotes are sprinkled between women’s stories, making this an informative but inherently easy book to read and enjoy. Certainly a book worth recommending to both expectant and experienced mothers who will find support and commonality in the great variety of personalities, subjects, and stories included in the book.

Barbara covers the gambit of emotions and experiences with nursing: from exquisite love and contentment at the sight of a sleeping child smiling with a nipple in its mouth; to great feelings of accomplishment and pride at watching a child grow healthy and big through the nourishment a woman’s own body provided; to anguish and tenacity in the face of challenges; to healing from difficult situations. With great humor and affection she weaves together the intimate experiences of mothers and their babies as they nourish each other and navigate the sometimes ecstatic and playful to the difficult and sad relationship of nursing and weaning. Nine chapters’ present women’s stories grouped in themes.

Of special note chapter seven focuses specifically on the embodied nature of nursing and on the contradictions of sexuality and intimacy involved in this relationship and in society. She presents stories of women navigating nursing in public; some with stories of hiding in bathrooms to others standing their ground even in the face of insistent store and restaurant managers. My favorite ironic account is of a woman nursing a toddler in a Hooters bar and standing up to the scantily clad waitress who is telling her to leave. She also presents accounts of the sexualized nature of breasts and the realities of balancing closeness with your child and your partner. Women recounted stories of trying to have sex, nursing an awoken child, and then returning to try to have sex again. Don’t many nursing moms understand this scenario? This book is remarkable for its intimacy and honesty of women’s daily lives.

It’s also remarkable for its humor and playfulness. This is the first book on breastfeeding I’ve come across that so intimately and sweetly shares the playfulness of mothers, babies, and breast. My favorite account details how a mother would playfully lift her shirt as her baby crawled toward her from across the room and as her baby got close she would hide her breast and the baby would squeal with delight. There are several similar stories of humor and antics included in chapter four. The book is filled with sweet honest moments like this that are seldom shared. Great cartoons from Baby Blues Partnership also accent the humor of nursing and mothering throughout the book.

In the closing chapter Barbara discusses the future of breastfeeding and makes suggestions for action. She states, “Telling our stories is an act of power, of taking control of our own life, of helping other women in theirs.  It is, above all, a starting point.  My hope is that the stories in The Breastfeeding Café will give women the courage and permission to dispel myths, reveal secrets, and be honest” (pg 292). I concur. There are many books out there that explore the benefits of breastfeeding, but The Breastfeeding Café lays open the trials and joys of real women who have been there at 3 am. Through these stories we can learn from each other and say “wow I wasn’t the only one.” The book makes nursing more visible, appreciated, and understood, and provides a critical opportunity for women to learn from and support each other in the day to day realities of breastfeeding in a bottle-feeding culture.

Overall I think this is a remarkable book. My only criticism is an academic one. As a sociologist myself I would have liked an appendix or small section that described her research methodology including information on how many women she interviewed or received accounts from online, when these were collected, how they were analyzed etc.  For most readers this is hardly a drawback, but it’s the one thing I was left wondering about.

Whether you’ve called them nanas, num nums, bas, boobies, milkies etc. you will find stories you can relate to and learn from in The Breastfeeding Café.  Hats off to Barbara Behrmann on an excellent and much needed honest and delightful book on the many experiences we share in nursing and mothering our children.

Reprinted from Citizens for Midwifery News, Summer 2006. Permission to reprint with attribution.



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