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Breastfeeding Images in Children's Books

By Anne Altshuler
Madison WI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 3, May-June 1998, pp. 68-73

Reading books with children can be a close and loving activity. Nestled in a parent's lap, a young child feels secure, loved, and assured of focused attention as we share the wonders of stories and pictures. The illustrations, familiar phrases, and even the smell of a particular book can arouse a flood of warm, cozy memories for years to come. Reading together is one way to continue some of breastfeeding's close physical contact with our children as weaning occurs and they grow older and increasingly independent. It also gives parents an opportunity to talk about their culture and values as they react to the issues presented in the story or pictures.

From the early days of identifying objects pictured in board books made especially for infants, through the comfort of a loved and familiar bedtime storybook, to the years of reading for information about dinosaurs or insects, sharks or the wild ponies of Chincoteague, books serve as a child's window on the wider world. Even after they are reading ably for themselves, children still love to share the intimacy of reading aloud with parents. In books, children and parents can explore together the familiar world reflected in pictures and stories of people like themselves, or venture into new territory to learn how others approach and deal differently with the challenges of life.

How Breastfeeding is Portrayed in Children's Books

When breastfeeding means a great deal to a family, parents may wish to choose books that show breastfed babies. But children's books tend to reflect the bias of the culture they come from. Since bottle-feeding is dominant in many cultures, many books include bottles in illustrations about infants. It is a rare book that portrays a baby at the breast. Of those that do, many also include bottles, frequently in the only illustration showing interaction between a father and his baby. This helps perpetuate the belief that bottle-feeding is a part of life for all babies and reinforces a belief that feeding is the primary or only way in which a father can achieve intimacy with his infant son or daughter. Many fathers today play a large role in their children's lives, and children enjoy seeing books that show fathers carrying their babies in slings, bathing, changing, rocking, singing to, and playing with their young children.

Some books, especially those that are written for families welcoming a new baby, unconsciously undermine their intended support for breastfeeding by linking an older child's feelings of jealousy with an illustration of breastfeeding. Other books present breastfeeding and bottle-feeding side by side, as if the two are equal and interchangeable.

Human beings are not the only species frequently depicted as feeding by bottle in children's books. All kinds of popular animal characters are shown bottle-feeding their young, from Babar the elephant to Frances the badger (Babar and His Children, by Jean de Brunhoff; A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban). In some cases, this is not the author's intention; it may be the illustrator who makes the fictional family's feeding choice.

Positive Images Don't Ensure a Good Book

Books that are written by breastfeeding advocates may have accurate and supportive information, but they face other challenges. Having correct information and good intentions does not guarantee that the author or illustrator is skillful at presenting the material to children in an appealing manner. Because these books are often produced by small, independent presses, they may not have the budget for large-scale marketing and distribution that the major publishing houses do. They are frequently relatively expensive for their size. They may not appear on local library and bookstore shelves at all, or if they are there, they may lack a spine with the title on it, making them difficult to shelve correctly and then to locate. Books available only in paperback format may not stand up well to repeated handling in schools and libraries.

Books with Positive Breastfeeding Images

No one book is perfect for every use or for every child, even a book with positive images of breastfeeding. Fortunately, there are a variety of books available today that can meet the needs of families looking for pictures or stories that include nursing mothers and babies. Here is a small sampling of currently available books that do include breastfeeding images, with a look at their particular strengths and limitations. Unless otherwise indicated, these books do not include images of bottles or pacifiers. They are all picture books with about 30-50 pages. Several of these books may be available in LLL Group Libraries or from the LLLI Catalogue, or you may look for them on the shelves of your local library or bookstore. It may also be possible to special order them through a local bookstore. Information to help with ordering is given at the end of this article.

We Have a Baby

(ages one to three) text and full-color illustrations by Cathryn Falwell.

The toddler in this lovely book with very simple text could be a boy or a girl, and children of several racial backgrounds could identify with this family. Both parents are actively involved with the care of their two children. The mother is shown nursing the new baby in one illustration, her arm around the toddler who is enjoying a drink and a cookie. This book shows wonderful role modeling for helping a toddler-aged sibling feel loved in the presence of a new baby.

One Round Moon and a Star for Me

(ages two to five) by Ingrid Mennen with full color illustrations by Niki Daly. A new baby girl is lovingly welcomed in rural Lesotho, in southern Africa. The father reassures her older brother of his place and belonging in the family. "Your eyes are like Mama's eyes. You are your papa's child and you are your mama's child," he says. Beautiful illustrations in muted colors include Mama nursing the new baby.

Happy Birth Day!

(ages three to eight) by Robie H. Harris with full-color illustrations by Michael Emberley.

A mother tells her daughter about her hospital birth and first day of life. The very essence of a new baby squinting, frowning, crying, yawning, nursing and sleeping is perfectly captured in the beautiful, large-format pencil-and-pastel illustrations. Although this baby receives visitors and gifts before her first nursing, there is one lovely full-page breastfeeding illustration. The baby falls asleep snuggled between her parents.

Only the Cat Saw

(ages three to eight) text and full-color illustrations by Ashley Wolff.

In this colorful picture book the cat sees all the details of 24 hours in the life of a busy farm family, including the mother breastfeeding the baby in a rocking chair at dawn. A special strength of this book is that breastfeeding is not the focus, but appears in a natural and matter-of-fact way in this pleasing and beautifully crafted work by a well-known children's author and illustrator. This book is a well-loved classic, available in many libraries.

How You Were Born

(ages three to eleven) by Joanna Cole with color photographs by Margaret Miller.

This clear and helpful book about birth shows families from all racial backgrounds in lovely photographs. The first edition, which was published in 1984, featured black and white photographs by a different photographer. Page 41 of this edition shows a baby nursing and gazing up into the mother's eyes. The text states, "When you were hungry you sucked milk from your mother's breast or a bottle." The breastfeeding illustration in the newer edition doesn't have the same loving look between mother and baby. Nevertheless, either edition is worthy to be included in library, school, or home collections.

Welcoming Babies

(ages three to eight) by Margie Burns Knight with full-color illustrations by Anne Sibley O'Brien.

Customs for welcoming babies from many cultures are described and shown in the beautiful illustrations. One mother breastfeeds her baby outdoors as the family plants a tree in the baby's honor. On the next page, two bottles are shown as a father readies his son for an outing. These are the only feeding illustrations in the book. The emphasis is on how babies are loved and cherished around the world.

A Teeny Tiny Baby

(ages three and up) text and pictures by Amy Schwartz.

This first baby is the center of attention in a family living in an urban setting. The baby is shown in many places outside the home. Extended family members (particularly one of the grandmothers) are shown interacting with and holding the baby in a matter-of-fact way. Although one of the grandmothers is pictured holding a bottle at the ready on the dust jacket and the father is feeding with a bottle in one illustration, the mother is breastfeeding in eight other pictures. Illustrations show the baby sleeping between his parents and being carried in a sling by his father. It is clear from the charming illustrations how much time is involved in the care of a new baby.

Over the Green Hills

(ages four to eight) text and pictures by Rachel Isadora.

A young boy living on the east coast of South Africa accompanies his mother on a long walk to visit Grandma Zindzi in another village. Little sister Noma is carried, wrapped close on her mother's back. They make several stops along the way. This older baby is shown breastfeeding on one page and there are other references to the mother feeding the baby. Beautiful descriptions and illustrations of relationships between family members and other members of a rural community.

Big Like Me

(ages three to six) text and pictures by Anna Grossnickle Hines.

A blond, blue-eyed preschooler tells his baby sister what experiences he'll share with her each month of her first year. The baby is shown breastfeeding at one month old, drinking from a cup at ten months. Lots of family activities appropriate to the seasons in a northern climate show how a preschooler can interact with a baby sibling in a positive way.

I Want a Brother or Sister

(ages four to eight) by Astrid Lindgren with full-color illustrations by Ilon Wikland.

This bright and attractive picture book tells about the arrival of a new baby and the effect on an older sibling. In the only breastfeeding illustration, the mother is shown nursing baby Lena in another room while preschooler Peter experiments with cutting his own hair and throwing the teapot to the floor with a crash. The text states, "When Mama fed Lena, Peter decided to make as much trouble as he could. That way, Mama would be forced to put Lena down and come see what Peter was doing." Peter's hurt and angry feelings are recognized and dealt with in a loving and caring manner.

See How You Grow

(ages four to eight) by Patricia Pearse with full-color illustrations by Edwina Riddell.

Fetal development and human growth across the life span are explained in a lift-the-flap format as five-year-old Sarah and her family welcome a new baby brother. The baby is shown breastfeeding in the hospital, with parents and Sarah cuddled close. The focus of the book is not breastfeeding or the role of a new sibling in the family, but the breastfeeding illustration models a loving family reassuring the older child of her place and importance. Young readers will enjoy lifting the paper flaps to see the baby developing inside his mother's tummy. (However, the paper flaps may not last through rough handling in a library or school setting.) Sarah's family is caucasian and middle class, but children of other racial backgrounds appear in some illustrations.

Mommy Breastfeeds Our Baby

(ages three to eight) by Teresa Carroll with full-color illustrations by Linda Gray.

This book, written by a lactation consultant, may be the only one that talks about using a breast pump so that milk can be left for the baby while the older child goes on an outing with her mother. Its reasonable cost, small size, and flat, pamphlet format make it ideal for home use. It can easily be slipped into a mother's purse to take along outside the house. These features make it less useful for library or school use, and it is unlikely to be found in bookstores. The focus of the book is on breastfeeding and how it benefits the whole family in terms of health, convenience, and financial savings. The father is very supportive and actively involved in the care of his children. This is a caucasian, middle-class, two-parent, two-child family. The illustrations are not great art, but they clearly support the statements made in the text and are colorful and detailed.

The World Is Full of Babies

(ages two to six) story and full-color pictures by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom.

How babies grow and develop before and after birth, how they are fed, bathed, carried, and cared for is the subject of this engaging book with appealing, multicultural illustrations. An East Asian mother is shown nursing her baby with the text: "All over the earth, babies are suckling. You suckled your mom's milk. Some babies drink milk from a bottle. Piglets and tiger cubs, monkeys and humans--all baby mammals drink milk!" A human baby is shown sleeping in a small crib, contrasted with a baby bat hanging upside down, a seabird perched on a cliff, and a whale floating beside its mother in the sea. Although one bottle is shown (not in use), the emphasis is on babies being held and loved, without use of artificial aids. The contrasts between humans and animals appeal to a young child's sense of humor. For example, we learn that while children hold hands, shrews hold tails. The human child carried by Dad in a baby backpack shares a two-page spread with a mother crocodile carrying her babies between her teeth, a lemur clinging to its mother's back, and a kangaroo peeking from its mother's pouch. This book is sure to delight children.

Maggie's Weaning

(ages three to five) text and photos by Mary Joan Deutschbein.

In straightforward and simple text, written by a La Leche League Leader, preschooler Maggie shares the story of her gradual, gentle weaning. Family photographs show Maggie and her younger sister Elsa nursing as newborns and enjoying other loving activities that gradually replace breastfeeding as they grow older. A helpful note to parents begins the book. Lack of a title on the book spine makes it difficult to shelve this paper-bound book in a library or bookstore, but it is ideal for home use with a nursing toddler or preschooler.

How Was I Born?

(ages four to ten) by Lennart Nilsson and Lena Katarina Swanberg, illustrated with full-color photographs by Lennart Nilsson.

Mary, a Swedish preschooler with a six-year-old brother, tells the story of the birth of a new baby brother. Additional text explains conception, fetal development, birth, growth, and development of babies as well as the feelings and reactions of the other members of the family. The changing of the seasons makes clear how long it takes for a fetus to grow, despite Mary's impatience. Lennart Nilsson's famous photographs of fetal growth supplement the lovely pictures of the family as they plan for the new arrival. Three beautiful photographs show the baby breastfeeding just after birth. The text states, "This is good for the baby and for the mother too." Mary decides to make a gift of all her old pacifiers to the coming baby. This may be considered a drawback, as pacifier use is associated with shorter duration of breastfeeding. Both parents are actively involved in caring for their children's physical and emotional needs. There is humor and caring for the feelings of the older children, with plenty of opportunity to address questions and concerns.

We Like to Nurse

(ages one to four) by Chia Martin with full-color illustrations by Shukyo Lin Rainey.

Using very simple text and bright pictures, 13 mother-baby animal pairs are shown nursing, with a simple statement about each. The pairs include monkeys, elephants, leopards, giraffes, llamas, pandas, zebras, cows, pigs, dogs, sheep, cats, and horses. The book ends with a human mother and baby and the words, "We like to nurse." The lack of a title on the book spine makes it difficult to shelve in a library or bookstore, and it would probably not stand up well to rough handling by many readers. But the pamphlet-like format makes it an easy book to take along on outings, and it is an excellent choice for a nursing toddler who would like to point to and name pictures of other mother-baby nursing pairs.

That New Baby

(ages three to six) by Sara Bonnett Stein with black-and-white photographs by Dick Frank.

Preschooler Charles and school-age Melissa welcome a new baby brother into their loving African-American family. Both parents are actively involved and supportive of their older children's feelings. This book has wonderful ideas to help older siblings feel valued and loved when a new baby arrives. Alongside the large-print text of the story is a small-print commentary for parents which contains many helpful insights into children's feelings and behavior along with suggestions for easing the stress in the family at this time. The clothing and hairstyles in the black and white photographs reflect the 1974 publication date, but the book's message makes it still valuable. There is one lovely breastfeeding photo.

Amie and Anika: 15 Years Later
by Terry Stafford

Every night when Amie was about three, I snuggled in her bed with her, reading stories, singing songs, and eventually being asked for "milky-milky" as my little one was ready to go to sleep. One night I had a wave of emotion; what a happy life we were leading--but would Amie remember these days of our close nursing relationship? So, I made her a little book about herself. When I couldn't go to an LLLI Conference I'd been hoping to attend, I sent my little book to the LLLI Office, asking someone to share it at the Nursing Toddler session. I wanted Amie to be there, even if I couldn't! This led to Amie being published by LLLI as a little coloring book. When Amie's sister, Anika, was born, so was another book-Amie and Anika-about being sisters and Amie's adjustment to her new role. This book was so popular that it sold out under my very nose. I suddenly realized that I didn't have any left for myself! I had to buy back three copies so my girls would each have one. At the urging of LLLI's Publications Department, I republished Amie, enlarging it to be a companion to Amie and Anika. Our youngest daughter, Tessa, complains that I haven't written a book about her! I've thought of a sequel to Amie and Anika in which they adjust to their new sister, but so far my creative muse has been busy elsewhere!

The responses to my books have been gratifying! I still get calls and cards from all over the U.S. and Canada from mothers searching for copies, or just letting me know that our story has touched them. This really moves me. I love the feeling that we're all connected by our mothering experiences. Amie and Anika are now 26 and 20 years old. Amie has studied both fine arts and music at college and is now studying voice and musical theater. Anika is a theater major at college, with an interest in drama therapy. All three of our daughters have been homeschooled. In fact, Amie's first year of school was college! Now, Tessa, age 11, is the only one happily learning at home. Our close bonds are still strong, and we have become very dear friends.

Editor's note: Author-illustrator Terry Stafford is still an active La Leche League Leader in Canada.

The Cuddlers Five Years Later
by Stacy Towle Morgan

Occasionally when I meet a child who has read or listened to my book The Cuddlers, the inevitable first question is "what are the children's names?" I have heard of children whose bedtime ritual consists of assigning names to each Cuddler - "That's Katherine," or "the one with the pink blanket is Annie." Somehow I thought that by excluding their names, the Cuddlers could be anyone--you, me, the child down the street. Instead I found that children wanted to know their real names.

So if you haven't guessed their true identities already, let me introduce you to the real Cuddlers. Ellen Clare, our eldest, is now in sixth grade at our home school. An avid reader and pianist, she spends her spare time making improvements to her dollhouse and writing in her journal. She still loves to come into our bed in the morning and visit before we start our day.

Reid Andrew is 11 years old and--true to the borders in the book under his picture--loves sports and music. Although he rarely comes into our bed at night anymore, there are times when a nightmare will chase him into our bed for several hours before he's confident enough to brave the night alone.

Leslie Ann is our most staunch cuddler. At the age of nine, she still likes to wake up earlier than the sun and steal a few hours of shared bedtime with us. She loves animals, piano, and drawing. The best thing about Leslie Ann is the way she sees things; in her drawings and her observations, she's always got a unique perspective. The photograph on the back cover of the book captures her looking out at the distance. We're not sure what she was watching, but it's probably something we would have missed anyway.

Grace Elizabeth, our youngest, just recently turned eight. Dramatic, vibrant, creative, left-handed and vocal are good words to describe her. Grace loves to sing, and she can render a tune for most any occasion. We don't see a lot of Grace in our bed since she has a difficult time getting up in the morning. On days when we can sleep late, she joins the rest of us for some quality time before we all have to get up and face the day.

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Some of these books are available in more than one edition. This list shows the most recent edition available, plus information about editions published outside the US.

Falwell, Cathryn. We Have a Baby. New York: Clarion Books, 1993. (1SBN 0-395620384) *

Harris, Robie H. Happy Birth Day! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1996. (ISBN 1-56402-4245) Available from LLLI, No.315 $16.95. *

Mennen, Ingrid. One Round Moon and a Star for Me. New York: Orchard Books, 1994. (ISBN 0-53106804-8)

Wolff, Ashley. Only the Cat Saw. New York: Walker and Company, 1996. (1SBN 0-8027- 7488-1) First published 1982. Penguin books edition published in London; Victoria, Australia; Markham, Ontario, Canada; Auckland, New Zealand. *

Cole, Joanna. How You Were Born. New York: William Morrow, 1993. (1SBN 0688-12061-X) First published in 1984. *

Knight, Margie Burns. Welcoming Babies. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 1994. (ISBN 0-88448423-9) Available from LLLI, No.330 $14.95. *

Schwartz, Amy. A Teeny Tiny Baby. New York: Orchard Books, 1994. (1SBN 0-531068188) *

Isadora, Rachel. Over the Green Hills. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1992. (1SBN 0688-10509-2)

Hines, Anna Grossnickle. Big Like Me. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1989. (1SBN 0-688-083544) *

Lindgren, Astrid. I Want a Brother or Sister. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1988. (ISBN 9-29-5) First published in Sweden in 1978. Published in the United Kingdom under the title That's My Baby. *

Pearse, Patricia. See How You Grow. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1988. (1SBN 0-8120-59360) First published in Great Britain in 1988 by Frances Lincoln Limited. Available from LLLI, No.3472 $14.95. *

Carroll, Teresa. Mommy Breastfeeds Our Baby. Tuscaloosa, AL: NuBaby, Inc., 1990. (ISBN 0 96266140-6) Available from LLLI, No.375 $4.95. *

Martin, Chia. We Like to Nurse. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press, 1995. (ISBN 093425245-9) Available from LLLL No.370 $9.95. *

Deutschbein, Mary Joan. Maggie's Weaning. Rochester, NY: Moon Gold Press, 1993. (ISBN 1-88567808-8) Available from LLLI, No.384 $6.95. *

Nilsson, Lennart and Lena K. Swanberg. How Was I Born? New York: Dell, 1996. (ISBN 0- 44050767-7) First published in Sweden in 1993 by Bonnier Aba, Stockholm.

Granström, Brita and Mick Manning. The World Is Full of Babies! New York: Doubleday, 1996. (1SBN 0385-32258-5) Published in Great Britain in 1996 by Watts Books, London.

Stein, Sara Bonnett. That New Baby. New York: Walker and Company, 1984. (1SBN 08027- 7227-7)

* Denotes books which may be found in LLL Group Libraries.

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