Is Breast Best?

Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood

258 pages

December, 2010

ISBN: 9780814794814



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Joan B. Wolf is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Texas A&M University and author of Harnessing the Holocaust: The Politics of Memory in France.

All books by Joan B. Wolf

Why has breastfeeding re-asserted itself over the last twenty years, and why are the government, the scientific and medical communities, and so many mothers so invested in the idea? In Is Breast Best? Joan B. Wolf challenges the widespread belief that breastfeeding is medically superior to bottle-feeding. Despite the fact that breastfeeding has become the ultimate expression of maternal dedication, Wolf writes, the conviction that breastfeeding provides babies unique health benefits and that formula feeding is a risky substitute is unsubstantiated by the evidence. In accessible prose, Wolf argues that a public obsession with health and what she calls “total motherhood” has made breastfeeding a cause célèbre, and that public discussions of breastfeeding say more about infatuation with personal responsibility and perfect mothering in America than they do about the concrete benefits of the breast.
Parsing the rhetoric of expert advice, including the recent National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, and rigorously questioning the scientific evidence, Is Breast Best? uncovers a path by which a mother can feel informed and confident about how best to feed her thriving infant—whether flourishing by breast or by bottle.


  • “Beautifully written, powerfully argued. . . . Challenges the science prescription that all infants must be breastfed.”

    —Linda Blum, author of At the Breast

  • "Instead of disputing the science about the chemical makeup of breast milk . . . she (Wolf) posits that the benefits most people associate with breast-feeding studies cannot be separated from the fact that mothers who breast-feed may be more attuned to health and may take more precautions about hygene . . . Wolf rightfully contends that in the government's and acvocate's zeal to increase the numbers of breast-fed babies, they have vastly discounted the harsh realities of breast-feeding in a modern world"

    —Tara A. Trower,

  • "Wolf confronts the stereotypes of ideal motherhood and explains how public health campaigns and advocacy groups have relied on flawed infant-feeding research to exaggerate any health risks associated with using infant formula."

    —Texas A&M University News,

  • “It is the all-encompassing nature of breast-feeding that is the crux of the most interesting part of Wolf's book. She makes a compelling argument that we are a risk-averse culture that has lost all perspective when it comes to risk assessment and our health, and this tendency is particularly pervasive on the issue of breast-feeding… In her book, Wolf rightfully contends that in the government's and advocates' zeal to increase the numbers of breast-fed babies, they have vastly discounted the harsh realities of breast-feeding in a modern world.”

    —Tara A. Trower,

  • "Wolf looks at the breast-feeding studies much like ones that ask whether race matters in the way people vote. She scrutinizes the design of the research and how it's been executed and 'then how it's been reported, both to scientists and to the public'"

    University of Chicago Magazine

  • "Wolf notes the 'insular and unidimensional zealotry' of breastfeeding campaginers and skillfully uncovers elements of racism and elitism in their behavior toward working women who do not have the luxury to breastfeed."

    —A. H. Koblitz, Choice

  • "Wolf offers a powerful and important cultural critique...this is an insightful and eye-opening book that will be of interest to sociologists of gender, medical sociologists, and science studies scholars."

    —Abigail C. Saguy, American Journal of Sociology