Mommy Memoir: An Interview with the Author of "How My Breasts Saved the World"
By Larissa Philips

Just when you thought the memoir genre had covered every last issue, Brooklynite and former Emmy-winning television producer Lisa Wood Shapiro comes out with a nursing memoir. But what a great surprise: How My Breasts Saved the World is the book you wish you’d had in those first few weeks, deep in that bewildering process of learning to nurse your baby. Funny, entertaining and brutally honest, the book details Woods’ torturous trek from overly confident and completely unprepared new mom to bona fide nursing pro. Along the way she encounters various nursing injuries (Who knew you could get carpal tunnel syndrome from breastfeeding?), becomes best friends with her nursing pillow and ultimately makes her goal, nursing her daughter for a full year.

Halfway through the book, I was dying to meet Shapiro and tell her in person how much I liked the book. We met in the Brooklyn Heights Barnes & Noble and followed her 1 1/2-year-old son around the kids’ section, while chatting about prenatal yoga, lactation consultants and the need for Lily Pulitzer nursing dresses. No longer a breastfeeding neophyte, Shapiro has become attached to the novel idea that a mom can feed her baby in the best possible way, and still retain her sense of humor and her sense of style. She even has some suggestions for what to do with all the money new moms save by breastfeeding (hint: There’s a stylish downtown department store that starts with the letter B …).

Here are some excerpts from our highly enjoyable conversation.

You suffered from engorgement, an injured wrist, sore nipples, a close call with a case of thrush and many other issues. What was it that kept you going?

Oh, arrogance, ego; horrible things like that … Also, my mother told me I was nursed, and I had this thing: feed unto others as you yourself were fed. I also told everyone I was going to nurse … And I’m crazy. It was crackpot fortitude.

And I had help right at the exact moment where I saw progress. I personally don’t care how anyone feeds their kids. Formula? Margaritas? I don’t care. What I care about is, if you want to nurse, there are so many great, relatively inexpensive resources available. Some insurance companies cover lactation consultants … Had I gotten a lactation consultant day one, I probably would have had three visits, by day five she would have latched on great. 

Why do so many women have problems breastfeeding?

Now that I’ve written the book, or if people see me nursing, I get the nursing testimonial. People say, “Oh, I tried that, it didn’t work for me. I bled.” And I’ll say, “Did you get a lactation consultant?” … No woman I know would wax her own legs. I’m always confounded by this fact. We don’t highlight our own hair, at least not in New York City. People get facials by professionals. But when it comes to keeping their newborns alive, they go it alone.

It seemed like you were kind of taken by surprise that nursing didn’t happen naturally.

I was the kind of person that took the best prenatal class. I went to Maternal Fitness, I did yoga. I could not spend enough money. This was during the boom time. I had my Liz Lange Egyptian cotton shirt. I had all these amazing resources … But my logic was skewed. I thought, “Oh, [breastfeeding] is like breathing, it’s instinctive, it’s natural.” But, anthropologically speaking, we don’t all live in a big cabin anymore where we watch everyone nurse. One hundred years ago, you would have seen 1,000 latches by the time you had your own baby.

Now you can practically live your whole life without ever seeing a baby nursing …

Two years ago at Stewart Airport in upstate New York there was a painting of a baby nursing. A lovely painting. It was part of the art show at the airport. And after two days they took it down because they received 15 complaints from passengers.

Meanwhile, I was in London recently and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I walked in and I saw a terra-cotta sculpture, about 200 years old, of a woman nursing her baby. And I thought, “Oh, that’s how I hold my baby.” It’s a gorgeous depiction. I was there an hour and I saw two more depictions of women nursing their babies, oil paintings from the 18th century. Beautiful paintings. And I thought, “Oh, that’s who we are as humans.” And then I thought, “How did we get from that to the image of Kathy Bates in About Schmidt going, ‘Oh, I nursed him for five years, and ha, ha, ha, he’s an idiot’? How did we get from glorious painting to “Take that inside?” 

What were you hoping to communicate with the book?

The goal of the book was, could I be funny about this? Could I make people laugh? Could I take this embarrassing thing that happened and make it a good read?

You definitely succeeded on all those counts. How did you celebrate weaning your son?
I took all the money I saved and went to Barney’s.

Lisa Wood Shapiro's book is:

How My Breasts Saved the World: Misadventures of a Nursing Mother
, by Lisa Wood Shapiro (The Lyons Press, 2004; $18.95),

Larissa Phillips is the editor of
New York Family, a United Parenting Publication.
July 2004