More thoughts from the New Yorker

Jill Lepore goes on to look at what part of breastfeeding is the part that is important to babies’ well being: is it the breastmilk? or is it the interaction with mothers? And if it is (even at least in part )the interaction, why is pumping given so much priority?

Rhode Island’s Physicians’ Committee for Breastfeeding gives an annual award for the most “Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace,” a merit measured, in the main, by the comforts provided in pumping rooms, like the gold-medal winner’s “soothing room,” equipped with “a sink, a lock on the door, and literature.” It appears no longer within the realm of the imaginable that, instead of running water and a stack of magazines, “breastfeeding-friendly” could mean making it possible for women and their babies to be together. Some lactation rooms even make a point of banning infants and toddlers, lest mothers smuggle them in for a quick nip. At the University of Minnesota, staff with keys can pump their milk at the Expression Connection, but the sign on the door warns: “This room is not intended for mothers who need a space to nurse their babies.”

Between 2004 and 2006, a National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign included TV ads that likened a mother feeding her baby formula to a pregnant woman riding a mechanical bull: “You’d never take risks before your baby is born. Why start after?” No one seems especially worried about women whose risk assessment looks like this: “Should I take three twenty-minute pumping ‘breaks’ during my workday, or use formula and get home to my baby an hour earlier?”

My own thoughts (not as well-phrased as Jill’s) are that in our society taking care of a baby is low-status, can be isolating, pays little or nothing, and can be boring. Mothers that have to choose between working full time or taking care of their babies full time are left with an unhappy choice. They can see their hard-won careers go off-track, they can fall behind on professional skills, they can lose financial security or they can lose the precious time caring for their babies. I think as a society we find it easier to promote pumping than address these issues.


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