3260 South Street, Penn Museum Rm 345
The Low Down on Letdowns: Breastfeeding History and Current Controversies
The decision of whether to breastfeed, is not just about nutrition, but, like all foodways, is imbued with cultural meaning, situated in a matrix of history, society, politics, and economics. For the past 40 years, public health officials in the United States have made a concerted effort to increase breastfeeding rates, basing their recommendations primarily on arguments about the uniquely beneficial properties of breast milk (e.g. active immune factors, balance of sugars and proteins) for growing human infants. Despite numerous national and local campaigns, national breastfeeding rates fall well below the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization’s breastfeeding recommendations. Further, breastfeeding rates remain comparatively low among women who are poor, minority, young, Southern, or who have a low education level. This talk briefly provides an overview of breastfeeding in a historical and cross-cultural perspective. Finally, it examines breastfeeding as a culturally-shaped practice loaded with symbolic significance, and investigates the concerns and meaning that shape women’s decisions about infant feeding.