Book reviews

Here is the list of books which I had the pleasure to review:

Why Oxytocin Matters

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg

I was excited to get my hands on this little book for a number of reasons, most of them unashamedly personal. Coming to this from the perspective of a Lactation Consultant and a mother with a history of very difficult breastfeeding experiences, I am consistently annoyed at the lack of research surrounding the impacts of stress on breastfeeding success, and was looking forward to learning more from an expert in the field.  Unfortunately, I felt that the exploration of this was very minimal, with just one paragraph that states that yes, environmental stressors and internal stresses can inhibit oxytocin release, and that breastfeeding mothers should aim for a calm and familiar environment in order to relax and optimise oxytocin release. There is later a short scientific explanation of the way that stress hormones are reduced in the presence of oxytocin, and that breastfeeding can therefore be a kind of ‘buffer’ to stress. I wanted more. But, in saying that, I DO love that this topic itself was deemed important enough to be included, and perhaps my frustration at this lack of research is also shared by the author themself!

I would have loved to have more information on oxytocin and breastfeeding, in a more complex way. The book focuses very much on oxytocin’s role during birth, despite later saying that ‘Breastfeeding is one of the most oxytocin-rich periods in life’. There is a whole chapter dedicated to synthetic oxytocin, for instance, but there is no reference whatsoever to the nasal oxytocin sprays that some women use when breastfeeding, to help elicit a letdown. It seemed that the breastfeeding related sections were kept simplistic and at an introductory level, when I personally feel that most people who are interested in reading a book solely dedicated to oxytocin will be doing so with a want for more complexities. But that might just be me 😉

If you’re working more in the birthing world, then this book will no doubt be an interesting read, but my take-away is that it seems I’d like to have a whole separate book entitled ‘Why Oxytocin Matters to Breastfeeding’. 

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Teresa Pitman

This book prides itself on being a kind of breastfeeding bible, and one that I hear a lot of women speak about. As it says, it holds ‘the philosophy of breastfeeding between its pages’. I think it is a great book for women to read while pregnant, as it focuses a lot on positive affirmations and ensuring that mothers feel as though they absolutely CAN breastfeed. It covers a lot of the basics, and does these well – things like different breastfeeding positions, the first breastfeed, safe pumping and milk storage, mastitis and clogged ducts, nursing multiples, etc. The many anectodes and mother’s stories throughout also help you to feel connected with others going through similar things.

If your breastfeeding journey is relatively ‘normal’, then this book will be a great resource for you. If you are having problems and have bought this book as a resource to help you, then no way. I personally find it very one sided and inflexible in many of its discussions, with things such as returning to work (it focuses on ensuring mothers feel supported with staying at home), weaning (not helpful in terms of mother-directed weaning), and it’s discussion of low supply and supplementation.

This book is largely about self-belief and trusting yourself and your baby. If you’ve passed that point and things aren’t going so smoothly, then look for a different book! The very small section of relactation and induced lactation, for instance, uses the story of a mother who wanted to relactate, and worked with a nurse practitioner who ‘showed me how to guide the baby to the breast, and Brandy took right to it.’ Tada! I personally think that such simply examples are great for positive affirmations, but these should also be balanced with other stories of mothers who are having a tough time too, to allow mothers to feel less isolated and less of a sense of failure when things don’t go quite so smoothly. In such situations, where mothers are having problems, broad sweeping statements throughout the entire book may be painful for these mothers to read – such as breastfeeding being ‘the key to good mothering’. Though I know I’m going against the grain here, I truly feel there are much better books out there to educate and empower new mothers.

This Isn’t What I Expected

Karen R. Kleiman, Valerie Davis Raskin

This is a brilliant book that deals with postpartum depression and also – though not quite to the same degree – postpartum anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis. It debunks the myths associated with postpartum mental illness and acknowledges that some feelings of overwhelm and ‘baby blues’ are a normal part of adjusting to life with a new baby. It then very clearly demonstrates how these feelings differ in those with postpartum mental illness, and how to recognise this. This is SUCH important information to have out there!

It functions as a work-book for mothers who are struggling, with exercises, questionaires and real life examples to work with. It allows mothers to recognise postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD or psychosis, and very clearly pinpoints when there is a postpartum emergency where women need to go to hospital. It gives techniques to break negative thought patterns, explores ways to cope, discusses the importance (and difficulty) of looking after yourself and how to make time for this, and explores the role of medication, therapy and support. It also delves into our expectations of parenthood and ways to reclaim self-esteem. It also has a chapter for partners, giving them concrete ways to help support their significant other.

The only thing that I feel would have been great to include is an exploration of the link between breastfeeding struggles and postpartum mental illness, when there are numerous studies that explore and confirm this link.

Sweet Sleep

Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith, and Teresa Pitman

A lot of parents hold fears about cosleeping and bedsharing, and can end up in an even more dangerous situation, such as falling asleep in a chair or on the couch with their baby. This book reassures exhausted parents that there is a safe way to fall asleep while feeding your baby! This book is an excellent resource for new parents and parents-to-be, allowing them to explore possible ways for them to organise their rooms and sleep situations to allow for the most sleep, in the safest way possible. It opens presuming that a new parent has bought this book when looking for immediate sleep solutions, and gives quick-fix solutions for how to get more sleep right now – where to put your bed, your baby, yourself and your partner, and how to organise the pillows and bedclothes.

It is perfect for those parents-to-be who are open to the idea of cosleeping, but who may hold fears regarding safety, and who will feel more comfortable when reading such an evidence-based text. It’s also great for parents who have babies and are struggling with getting enough sleep, following a lot of modern-day cultural ‘rules’ such as cots and bassinets, but are not finding success and are feeling ready to try something new.

I personally love that this book is not simply full of anecdotes, quotes and stories from mothers, but it is instead full of concrete research and science-based evidence. This, I feel, in addition to the stories from families in these situations, will effectively remove the fear that many parents hold about cosleeping, and will assist with fostering a safe, healthy and happy family unit.