Breast intentions: a quick review

Maureen MinchinReviews by MM

          Well, I’ve now read every page of Allison Dixley’s Breast Intentions: how women sabotage breastfeeding for themselves and others, highlighter and pen in hand. And then I read all the reviews I found online, both by people who understood what she was saying, and other people who clearly misrepresented what I heard her saying in those pages, or who seemed to have other agendas than book reviewing. I liked Phillipa Pearson-Glaze’s review http://breastfeeding.support/breast-intentions/ , which included the comment that “… if you strongly believe a mother should never feel guilty for her feeding choices you will rail against it and write a bad review to deny the notions within and save face with your peers (“we never blame a mother”). In doing so however, you may be playing into the book’s hands by carrying out your own double deception and perpetuating the myth of a culture of “broken breasts”. … Breast Intentions may fascinate you, even if you don’t agree with it all.”
The review on the Evolutionary Parenting website is also worth reading:   http://evolutionaryparenting.com/review-breast-intentions-by-allison-dixley/
              What do I think? Allison Dixley has produced a truly original book that will make people reflect on many issues, both personal and professional. Truly original books about infant feeding are uncommon, as are both her eclectic academic base and strong positive personality. Even if I didn’t think she has written an honest and important book -and I do- I think that originality means that her book needs to be read and thought about by all health professionals dealing with mothers. When doing so, readers will need to be consciously self-aware, and identify what sensitive nerves or buttons her writing presses. (Even the less worthy ones: for instance, one of my subliminal reactions, I must admit, was clearly “fancy someone that young, blonde, and attractive having the nerve to tell experienced breastfeeding advocates they are getting things wrong: what arrogance!”) Her style can seem arrogant, but it’s not really, it’s just plain-spoken, in a manner which is at times irritating, and at other times highly entertaining, once you get used to its bounce and verve and colloquialism. It made me laugh more than once, as I recognised the truth of what she was saying so appositely! The chapters that deal with negative emotions demand personal honesty of all readers, which is a brave thing for an author to do. Only one who is deeply committed to the truth of her vision will risk the consequences, which seem always to include an outpouring of nastiness from those who object to what is said, or who fail to understand the writer’s truthful thought and thoughtful truth as anything other than judgmentalism.
           The initial part of the book was hard to get into for those who don’t do much psychological theorising, but it is very accessible when one concentrates, and rings true in many ways. Emotion does drive our decisions and actions; industry knows that full well and has always exploited it. Dixley is right: it isn’t simply the obstacles women face in our society that determines their breastfeeding success or failure; there are psychological and personal factors which determine how women navigate the many tricky shoals of the bottle-normative, broken-breast society we currently live in. The referencing is useful for a non-psychologist like me. Above all, I think the final epilogue is superb, as a how-to-avoid-failure guide for women who want to breastfeed, and I would like to see a version produced as a pamphlet or available online on her website.

           Women’s breastfeeding (and other) intentions do matter, and this book is really worth reading, whether you like it – as I grew to do – or not. It is an important book because it adds to and changes the discussion. Dixley convinced me that “we need to be honest and acknowledge that breastfeeding is more likely to fail for behavioural reasons than biological ones (which of course isn’t to say that it doesn’t fail for both reasons, and whether the “anatomical excuse” is “over-used” is at least debatable!) I look forward to meeting and talking with Allison Dixley, a truly original thinker, sometime in the UK or Australia. And now I will post this and go to Amazon to recommend the book, in the face of unreasonable nastiness. Next will be Lactivism, which I’m finding interesting, but so far not overly original: I’ve just started it, so it may improve…