The Breast Pump Battle: A Losing One for Women

Years of militant pro breastfeeding campaigns combined with an American economy that requires two incomes and doesn’t tolerate maternity leave have fueled sales of breast pumps and a culture of mothers expressing milk.

In case you have been living under a rock for the past 15 years, this is from the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement (published in 1997, updated most recently in 2005. Full text here.)

Although economic, cultural, and political pressures often confound decisions about infant feeding, the AAP firmly adheres to the position that breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant.

“Our message is that breast milk is the gold standard, and anything less than that is inferior.”

This message has been picked up by everyone from NOW to politicians (Iowa Senator Tom Harkin advocated warning labels on formula like we put on cigarettes). We have the “Liquid Gold Awards“, and ads produced by the AdCouncil in 2004 (never aired, by the way) that compared feeding formula to bullriding when pregnant.

Now, all of a sudden, the pendulum has reversed direction.

First it was Jill Lepore in January in the New Yorker:

Pumps can be handy; they’re also a handy way to avoid privately agonizing and publicly unpalatable questions: is it the mother, or her milk, that matters more to the baby? Gadgets are one of the few ways to “promote breast-feeding” while avoiding harder—and divisive and more stubborn—social and economic issues. Is milk medicine? Is suckling love? Taxonomical questions are tricky. Meanwhile, mamma ex machina. Medela’s newest models offer breakthrough “2-Phase Expression” technology: phase one “simulates the baby’s initial rapid suckling to initiate faster milk flow”; phase two “simulates the baby’s slower, deeper suckling for maximum milk flow in less time.” These newest machines, the company promises, “work less like a pump and more like a baby.” More like a baby? Holy cow. We are become our own wet nurses.

Then it was the Atlantic’s “Case Against Breastfeeding

After a couple of hours, the basic pattern became obvious: the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. …  So how is it that every mother I know has become a breast-feeding fascist?

And then Judith Warner of the New York Times weighed in. And it was the Warner that pissed me off enough to write this post.

Warner’s editorial questions the notion that formula is poison and mothers who use it are child abusers. That’s all to the good. Like Lepore and Rosin, Warner also points to the ways in which the focus on pumping has distracted us from looking for ways to support women who want to stay at home and breastfeed. Yes, she’s right.

But in doing so, she refers to pumping as “a grotesque ritual”, and suggests that pumping leaves women who do it without a “semblance of physical dignity”.

She concludes:

I hope that some day, not too long in the future, books on women’s history will feature photos of breast pumps to illustrate what it was like back in the day when mothers were consistently given the shaft. Future generations of female college students will gaze upon the pumps, aghast.

I became pregnant with my first child almost 10 years ago, and, being very unhappy with my job, I went on the market at the same time. When I was in labor, my family fielded phone calls from interested potential employers, and I conducted phone interviews from bed (I had a c-section). I pumped and pumped to be able to leave enough milk, and when my eldest was 6 weeks old, I got on a plane with my Medela Pump In Style and flew 1500 miles away to interview for a new job, where my potential employers scheduled breaks every two hours to allow me to pump some more.

I never took more than 6 weeks maternity leave, so I have done a lot of pumping in my time.  I never felt “undignified” or “grotesque” while doing it. I felt it was a way to provide a nutritionally superior form of nourishment, a way to keep my milk supply up for the breastfeeding I wanted to do when I wasn’t working, and, sometimes, a way to feel more connected during the day to my babies.

I had a very hard time breastfeeding, especially at first. It hurt, for one thing, which meant, according to the dogma, that I was doing it wrong.  Not only was it not supposed to hurt, but I was supposed to have orgasms when my milk let down! I remember reading one book, the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, in which the author mentions that she took one of her post c-section prescribed Vicodin before breastfeeding to cope with the pain.  That admission was a wonder to me, and I clung to it.

Maybe things have changed, but at the time, there were two kinds of women who did not breastfeed:

1. The head-in-the-sanders, like the family of physicians into which I married, who wouldn’t breastfeed if you paid them. They didn’t deny the potential benefits. Rather, they refused to get into it. They just didn’t want to do it, and they didn’t.

2. Those who tried breastfeeding but, for “medical reasons” couldn’t do it.

For my part, I found breastfeeding, which I did for at least six months exclusively with each child, at times, wonderful, but also a major source of stress and a major cause of a gendered division of parenting labor that I had wanted to avoid.  I look back now at the amount of stress brestfeeding created, and I wonder if formula feeding (or mixed feeding) might not have been the right choice. I wondered why women who chose not to nurse had to either (1) appear selfish, or (2) come up with a medical “excuse” (and yes, lots of women have real medical reasons — mastectomy, chronic illness, etc., but my point is that many feel forced to come up with “medical excuses” to avoid the censure of the breastfeeding brigade). I longed for a space in breastfeeding discourse to talk about the family as a whole, about legitimate needs and goals of nursing mothers, about the role of fathers in all of this, and about the structure of the American workplace which, at the time, was not conducive at all to nursing (that has changed quite a bit in a decade, as Lepore outlines).

So, I am glad this conversation is happening. But I resent the implication by Lepore and Warner that pumping is a terrible thing, and that the correct stance is that all mothers stay home full time with their infants. This admission may shock you, dear reader, but my preference would not have been to stay at home full time for 6 months or a year, even if that option had been available (which it wasn’t). Why are these columists assuming it would (or should) have been? My preference was to work part time, which, being an academic, I more or less got to do, albeit covertly. But what about families where dads stay at home full time by choice or necessity? Why not advocate as well for flexible work schedules, for quality affordable day care, or — gasp!! — for more fathers to get involved in caring for newborns?

How did a reasonable corrective to hysterical breastfeeding discourse become an attack on the breast pump and those who use it, and a mandate that in a just society all women would become stay at home mothers?

When the pendulum swings on these issues, why does it always have to swing so far?

20 responses

  1. First, I read this article all the way through (rarely do I ever do that) and enjoyed reading it too. Wish I could contribute but I am childless. My sister has two daughters, never used a breast pump, breastfed for only one month. Too painful and also a bit lazy (yes, I said it). A co-worker of mine does both breast milk and formula for her one year old, doesn’t do the pumping action. I can’t say what I’d do but will say that this whole debate over what women should/should not be doing is annoying. There’s advice you take and the rest you can leave it is my motto. Breast pump being teh evil? Really? Sounds absurd if you ask me.

    What I don’t understand and maybe someone can elucidate on this: I had a patient call and ask me about taking some meds while breastfeeding. She stated that her son is 5 years old and it’s more for HIS benefit, not hers (something to do with bond?). Whatever. I just don’t understand it at all to breast feed (the kid has teeth) for so long? Anyone?

    Off to work. Interesting topic, Jessica.

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  2. Gosh this post raises so many interesting points – where to start?

    Being British, I’ve had quite different experiences from you with my two sons. Britain has pretty good maternity leave provisions – you can take up to a year off and your job is safe, but most of that time is not paid – I won’t bore you with the details.

    I was fortunate in having a better-than-statutory pay deal and was able to take long periods of maternity leave. From a breast-feeding perspective, that was good for me because I really don’t think I COULD have expressed milk at work. There are laws about making facilities available to mothers to enable them to express etc. but I don’t think I could have been organised enough given how minute-to-minute pressured my job is – it would have been unbearably stressful.

    I was also very lucky in finding breast feeding easy and satisfying, and after 6 months I moved on to mixed feeding and gradually cut it out and I never missed it. However, friends of mine have found it extremely difficult. One in particular, spent day after day – long, long days – in a breast feeding clinic because her daughter was having great trouble with breast feeding. She was determined and I commend her. However, there are women who are made miserable with the stress and sense of failure of trying to breast feed.

    This perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if everyone was treated the same but certainly over here, there is a huge difference between middle class and (for want of a better phrase) working class mothers. The rates of breast feeding are high in the former category and very low in the latter category. In Britain we have a National Health Service and I was in quite a big ward after the birth of my second son. It was extraordinary how different the nurses were with the middle class and working class mothers. The woman across from me was asked if she would be breast feeding her baby and when she said ‘no’ that was it. She was calmly handed a bottle of formula and left to get on with it. Whilst I spent most of that evening being bullied by awful nursery nurse about my ‘inefficient technique’ until I finally insisted that she leave me alone and complained about her to the ward sister.

    Since then, a friend of mine in the health service has told me that there is a feeling that government breast feeding advertisements have been aimed too squarely at a middle class (more readily receptive?) audience and have actually served to exclude working class women even further. And I have mixed feelings about this – on the one hand it feels like they are being totally sidelined. And on the other, they are at least missing out on the crusading sort of bullying that makes so many women with new babies feel so bloody miserable.

    There must be a better way, one that is inclusive and encouraging to all women without making what is already a difficult and stressful time even worse for them.

    Yes – very emotive topic with lots of facets.

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  3. Hi Jessica,
    I have two daughters, now ages 10 and 14, both of whom I breastfed exclusively for quite a while. Neither ever had a bottle, although I tried pumping for my oldest so I could teach part time when she was 6 months old, but she refused every single bottle and would just wait for me to come home so she could nurse.

    I am undeniably pro breastfeeding and strongly believe that every woman should breastfeed their baby as long as they can at least during their child’s first year of life. I find it difficult to accept that anyone can deny breastfeeding is best for both baby and mother, and I do cringe when a woman refuses to even try because she thinks it is weird or disgusting (I blame our society for that one). However, I acknowledge that breastfeeding is not the best choice for every woman, especially if there are true medical reasons for the mother or baby, or because a woman chooses to or needs to work outside of the home. The woman who works outside the home, and decides to pump her breastmilk so her baby still receives the best nourishment his mother can provide? I totally admire and applaud her! That takes patience, dedication, perseverance and the mother is clearly putting her child’s needs above anything else. Judith Warner’s comments about pumping being “a grotesque ritual” and a “semblance of physical dignity” is simply absurd. How can she say that about a mother doing what’s best for her baby’s well being?? I’d be pissed, too, Jessica.

    Jessica said, I longed for a space in breastfeeding discourse to talk about the family as a whole, about legitimate needs and goals of nursing mothers, about the role of fathers in all of this, and about the structure of the American workplace which, at the time, was not conducive at all to nursing.

    This is a need for breastfeeding mothers that is definitely lacking in many, if not most, communities and our society would benefit tremendously if education and support in these areas were more readily available. I was lucky and had a close friend who was also breastfeeding her newborn, so we talked every day about the very things you mention and truly were each other’s support system. Later, when I went to a local La Leche League meeting to get advice on weaning (ha! that was a joke), I met a few moms there who became my parenting lifeline. We had a lot of similar views on parenting, breastfeeding, health, and nutrition. In fact we still do. Except no one breastfeeds any more. ;) Now we’re addressing teenager issues, but we still have our support system intact and it is invaluable to us.

    Jessica said, How did a reasonable corrective to hysterical breastfeeding discourse become an attack on the breast pump and those who use it, and a mandate that in a just society all women would become stay at home mothers?
    When the pendulum swings on these issues, why does it always have to swing so far?

    Isn’t this the way of the world on almost any controversial topic? It is sad and unfortunate, but extreme advocates or critics of any one philosophy tend to get narrow minded and judgmental about the people on the other side of the fence, in my opinion, anyway. And the people who fall somewhere in the middle? Their voice tends to get lost or ignored. It is very discouraging.

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  4. I nursed both of my daughters for about 18 months. I had an AWFUL time getting my first daughter to breastfeed, but we finally got the hang of it. Daughter number two took to the breast immediately, but I had terrible pain every time she latched on. Again, that passed and we were fine. I never had an ORGASM from breastfeeding (uh, weird!) but I found it incredibly relaxing and satisfying. I feel lucky to have been able to stay home. If I had gone back to work (teaching) I probably wouldn’t have pumped. The breaks between class periods are short, nowhere to go but a bathroom stall, etc.

    My sister in law chose to pump even though she was home. I think she found breastfeeding uncomfortable. I admit that I was baffled by this decision; instead of spending precious moments bonding with her baby, she was pumping milk alone.

    To me, pumping seems like a hassle, but it hardly deserves backlash! Same with formula. I was formula fed and my brain developed fine.

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  5. what an interesting yet unexpected topic to find under the heading ‘racy romance reviews’! the topic caused huge stress in our house for the first two of three juniors due to, as you’ve termed it, the extremist positions many people have adopted. i had enormous problems with the letdown reflex, was put on milk-increasing medication, and tortured myself and my baby by driving out to clinics and having people come in to my home to try and force the issue.

    when i finally gave up after two months,it an enormous relief for both of us. my son, his brother, and his sister were all fed formula, and i defy anyone to tell. none of them have allergies, they are all wildly healthy, two have never been on antibiotics and one had a single course of them.

    there’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding (obviously!) but there is something wrong with creating unneccesary and at times extremely damaging stress for people who choose another route.

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  6. Interesting topic, for sure.

    I am the youngest of five and my mother breastfed all of us for about half a year each (which down in Mexico in the 60s was better than most) However, she had poor milk quality and had to supplement with formula. Should she be crucified for that?

    Plus, when I was just about a month old, she had to go back to work, so she pumped through the day (had to throw that milk out) and nursed me after work. Was that so awful?

    I have two kidlets, both of whom I breastfed exclusively for the first few months, adding other food from the fifth month on, following my family’s advice. The eldest nursed for seven and a half months. Then he grew FANGS (six in three weeks) and tried to bit my nipples off. That was that–two weeks, you are weaned, you cannibal. The youngest was weaned right at seven months before she could repeat the behaviour, thanks much.

    But nursing was a personal decision that I had the luxury to make, not working at the time. I had the freedom to indulge, so to speak.

    On the other side of the issue, one of my sisters in law tried to breasfeed each of her three kids, and could never do it. Each time she developed painful mastitis, fever, infection, etc. and had to give up after a couple of extremely stressful months. In the end, they had to use formula. All three kids are bright, gifted, healthy adolescents, but the pressure she got from her family to breastfeed was horrendous.

    Aren’t we lucky that we have choices our foremothers didn’t have? Why do we have to make it a crusade against those who choose differently? I don’t know in the end–but I know I’ll support my daughter’s choice if and when, and damn what anyone else has to say on the topic.

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  7. Keishon: my sister fed her third child until she was about five. I imagine people do it for different reasons. With her, I think it was a mixture of the child being more strong willed than her, and perhaps on some level the feeling that this was her last baby – and she loves babies – and when this time was gone, that period of her life was over.
    Possibly, perhaps, the fact that she wasn’t at home full-time with this child, as she had been with the other two, meant they both valued the closeness more. Hard to know.
    Whatever it was about, it wasn’t about sustenance, and she was at times a bit embarrasssed about it – there’s something about a four year old, coming in from playing in the garden, and asking for it that just isn’t part of our cultural norms.
    In the end, she fell pregnant accidentally, and had to stop. As with the older two, she only fed the youngest an ordinary amount of time.

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  8. Breastfeeding really is a divisive topic. I had a reduction surgery in my 20’s and was lucky to be able to lactate at all with my two girls, but I never had adequate supply to forego supplementation. I have large breasts and large nipples, and breastfeeding was always something of a contortionist act for me. I never experienced the let-down. While over all breastfeeding wasn’t especially painful, it wasn’t easy.

    The pump… ah, the pump. I totally get that author’s pov, but I would never presume to generalize. Pumping was not a good experience for me — let’s just leave it at hormones and feelings of inadequacy.

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  9. Nothing about a pump “backlash” surprises me in the least — it seems a natural extension of the extremist views I’ve seen in some people since I was pregnant. I haven’t been there in years, but on the “Mothering”” Board, it was basically a competition about who was more “natural,” with people counting up their preening points in their signatures — breastfeeding, not circumsizing, hanging the !@#$%$ laundry. All of which I agree with, incidentally, but I’m not going to jump down someone else’s throat because they don’t.

    I had to pump exclusively and I had a love-hate relationship with it. It took enormous amounts of time — 1/2 hour out of every two — and I got very little return for it, never having anything approaching a decent supply. And I was never sure how to balance my baby’s physical health with his psychological health — do I keep pumping even when he’s crying? As I remember it, the pumping would go and that was probably the right decision.

    But the pump enabled him to get some breastmilk, even if only a small amount, and that seemed very important at the time.

    But you know, there will always be people who think if you’re not the Natural Mothering Queen doing it all perfectly, you’re nothing. And as long as they’re not making public policy, I couldn’t give a shit.

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  10. Marianne McA wrote:

    Keishon: my sister fed her third child until she was about five. I imagine people do it for different reasons. With her, I think it was a mixture of the child being more strong willed than her, and perhaps on some level the feeling that this was her last baby – and she loves babies – and when this time was gone, that period of her life was over

    I subscribed to comments and see that I didn’t get all of them. What’s up with that, WordPress? Anyway –

    Appreciate this response. I was half-jesting with my remarks but I approached this topic with my co-workers and sure enough, a lot of them do the breast pumping action. Hey, you have to do what you can. The image that a woman should and can do everything is false, false, false. You can try but there is only so much you can do and I for one, wouldn’t even try.

    Well, I can only discuss this topic so far as a non-participant but felt that a child 5 years old still breastfeeding is overly long but Marianne McA gave some pretty good explanations for this and I appreciate the response/clarification even though I kinda knew the answer already. Thanks.

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  11. Interesting topic. But this is one area I think the US lags behind. In Canada mothers (or fathers) get a year of maternity leave – with their job or one similar guaranteed when they return. They get paid the entire time – though not 100% of their salary. This negates the massive amount of pumping nursing mothers do and when they do – it’s for those rare nights out without the little one along. When I had my sons, it was only 3 months and I’m glad they raised it to a year. There is even talk – though I don’t know how far it’s going – of extending it even longer.
    Just the other day I heard of a case where the mother had a year off and then became pregnant very soon after her return to work. She hadn’t built up the required amount of time to go on maternity leave so after her child is born, her husband will be taking paternity leave.

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  12. Mothering is a minefield of judgment from all sides. If your kid isn’t singing opera or breaking the world freestyle skiing record by age 2 you must be the worst mother ever. We are our own worst critics and that’s a pity.

    I breastfed all three of my children. With each of them I had to supplement with formula due to severed ducts impacting supply. In the beginning, each time I had a child, I pumped to get my supply as high as I could.

    I didn’t find pumping to be grotesque and I suppose if I weren’t in such a good mood just now, I’d be annoyed at another person having the audacity to generalize so varied an experience as breasfeeding and pumping. It’s paternalistic, which is even worse coming from another woman.

    I support mothers making the best choices for their kids and their families. I am hugely supportive of breastfeeding. Yep, it hurt like a mutha at the beginning but I was lucky enough to have had the support of my doctor and a lactation consultant who were both really helpful and educational about creating a way for me to nurse and supplement as much as necessary.

    At the same time, I don’t believe that formula is poison, nor do I think bottlefeeding will turn your kid into a bag of hammers. The idea of a woman nursing when she’s disgusted by it, or it it so frustrating she turns into an emotional wreck at feeding time alarms me far more than her choice not to breastfeed because she simply doesn’t want to do it.

    Mothers need to cut each other a break. This gig is hard enough without the guilt trips over every single thing you do.

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  13. I went into Motherhood with every intention of breastfeeding, of using cloth diapers, to stay at home and be the Earth Mother…then reality set in. I had an 11 pound baby and no milk. None. I tried for almost 2 weeks to nurse and my baby and I cried and cried and cried because he was starving and I was a failure at motherhood. I eventually turned to formula; he became happy and content and we both survived. I didn’t even try to nurse with my next three because it was evident from the beginning that the milk just wasn’t there. All four of my babies were fat and healthy and we bonded just fine, and I am very close to all of them. They are mostly grown now – ages 15 – 25 and are still healthy; beyond the usual childhood ailments they didn’t suffer because they weren’t given breastmilk. Would I have preferred to breastfeed? Sure, if for no other reason than the cost of formula is huge, and warming bottles at 2 am is a pain in the arse. Do I feel guilty because I didn’t? Not in the least.

    My oldest is now married and has a son of his own. His wife breastfeeds – both nursing and pumping, because she went back to work when he was 8 weeks, thought except for the nighttime feedings they use bottles to allow Daddy to share in the caring of the boy.

    Breastfeeding is a very personal choice and no one should be made to feel guilty for not doing it, or feel superior because they do. In days gone by, I imagine that breastmilk was the most nutritionally sound choice for your baby. In this day and age, I am not entirely sure that is still true. Formula has come a long way – and as a Mother who had 3 of 4 children on soy formula because of lactose issues, sometimes I think formula may be the better choice.

    As for the breast pump being evil? That too is a personal choice. However I once had a co-worker who would go into the only bathroom in our office and spend nearly 45 minutes, 3 times a day pumping – then she would leave the office to take the bottle to her son’s daycare and then stay to feed it to him. That meant that out of every 8 hour work day, she spent about 4 hours pumping and feeding her son. Really not fair to those of us who 1) didn’t have access to the bathroom when it was needed and once we did have access we had to wade through her stuff to get to the sink and 2) had to pick up her work because she wasn’t there doing it. Pump all you like – but do it on your own time and don’t expect others to pick up your slack in the name of breastfeeding.

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  14. Keishon wrote:

    I had a patient call and ask me about taking some meds while breastfeeding. She stated that her son is 5 years old and it’s more for HIS benefit, not hers (something to do with bond?).

    It’s common for nursing moms to think about what they are putting into their mouths and how it might affect their children, but to my knowledge, breastfeeding is not a reliable way to administer medicine to children.

    Tumperkin wrote:

    there is a huge difference between middle class and (for want of a better phrase) working class mothers. The rates of breast feeding are high in the former category and very low in the latter category. In Britain we have a National Health Service and I was in quite a big ward after the birth of my second son. It was extraordinary how different the nurses were with the middle class and working class mothers.

    That is fascinating, and not surprising. We see the same divergence in attitudes when it comes to daycare as well. If you are receiving public assistance, you are a lazy mom if you do not work or try to, but if you are middle class, you are a bad mom if you do work.

    Christine wrote:

    Neither ever had a bottle, although I tried pumping for my oldest so I could teach part time when she was 6 months old, but she refused every single bottle and would just wait for me to come home so she could nurse.

    Boy, I know first hand what this is like. My eldest would go 6 hours without taking a bottle of expressed milk, then I would have 3 hour marathon nursing sessions when I got home.

    Christine wrote:

    I find it difficult to accept that anyone can deny breastfeeding is best for both baby and mother,

    I agree. All things being equal, it is. But (a) it is not AS superior as it has been made out to be in the press (breastmilk = liquid gold, formula = poison), especially not these days when formula has improved so much, and (b) all things are rarely equal.

    I am glad the newer research is showing that the benefits of breastfeeding are also in the closeness and nurturing it provides. We moms did not need an NIH grant to tell us this, of course. But I wish this didn’t in turn lead to the argument that mothers have to stay at home full time while nursing, because it overlooks the fact that fathers can nurture and feed expressed milk, grandmothers can nurture and do the same, and yes, even day care providers and nannies can do this as well.

    Jill Sorenson wrote:

    My sister in law chose to pump even though she was home. I think she found breastfeeding uncomfortable. I admit that I was baffled by this decision; instead of spending precious moments bonding with her baby, she was pumping milk alone.

    This is something new, which Lepore in the New Yorker discusses. I definitely see more of this these days.

    Christine wrote:

    To me, pumping seems like a hassle, but it hardly deserves backlash! Same with formula. I was formula fed and my brain developed fine.

    The Atlantic piece has a funny bit about this, the author is looking around her child’s classroom trying to find the formula fed babies, and is amazed that she can not pick them out. My sister-in-law’s formula fed kids are outperforming mine academically, and we are professors who breastfed!

    Maya M. wrote:

    what an interesting yet unexpected topic to find under the heading ‘racy romance reviews’!

    You have no idea how many times I have cursed the title I chose to give this blog. I went for alliteration over accuracy.

    Maya M. wrote:

    when i finally gave up after two months,it an enormous relief for both of us. my son, his brother, and his sister were all fed formula, and i defy anyone to tell. none of them have allergies, they are all wildly healthy, two have never been on antibiotics and one had a single course of them.

    There’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding (obviously!) but there is something wrong with creating unnecessary and at times extremely damaging stress for people who choose another route.

    I think very few women breastfeed exclusively for the recommended 12 months. Instead of being made to feel good for doing it exclusively for 6 months, I felt like a failure for introducing formula so I could stop pumping after 6 months. There is something wrong with that. Most of the research on the benefits to breast milk concentrates heavily on the first 6 weeks after birth. I did my own research, and found that after 6 months, the benefits over formula are negligible. Why wasn’t I allowed to weigh, as one factor in the decision, the inconvenience to me of continuing to do it, without feeling selfish? I support breastfeeding, and it is clearly superior to formula, but I am glad some sobering reality is coming to the discussion.

    azteclady wrote:

    Aren’t we lucky that we have choices our foremothers didn’t have? Why do we have to make it a crusade against those who choose differently? I don’t know in the end–but I know I’ll support my daughter’s choice if and when, and damn what anyone else has to say on the topic.

    I agree! I got it both ways: my hippie mom was all about breastfeeding, and my mother in law, mother to doctors who did not BF, thought I was this hick for doing it. It’s such a personal thing, it annoyed me that people would feel free to express their opinions about it so freely.

    Nicola O. wrote:

    Pumping was not a good experience for me — let’s just leave it at hormones and feelings of inadequacy.

    It’s not a great experience, even when it goes well, although clearly some women prefer it to nursing. I am glad the Lepore article took pump manufacturers to task for the hyperbolic language comparing pumping favorably to nursing. But it’s one thing to admit nursing>pumping, and another to say it’s a grotesque mimicry.

    willaful wrote:

    And as long as they’re not making public policy, I couldn’t give a shit.

    Hear, hear.

    KristieJ wrote:

    But this is one area I think the US lags behind. In Canada mothers (or fathers) get a year of maternity leave – with their job or one similar guaranteed when they return. They get paid the entire time – though not 100% of their salary.

    That’s so nice. My view is that the US lags behind in most areas of social policy, and this is just one of them.

    Lauren wrote:

    At the same time, I don’t believe that formula is poison, nor do I think bottlefeeding will turn your kid into a bag of hammers. The idea of a woman nursing when she’s disgusted by it, or it it so frustrating she turns into an emotional wreck at feeding time alarms me far more than her choice not to breastfeed because she simply doesn’t want to do it.

    Mothers need to cut each other a break. This gig is hard enough without the guilt trips over every single thing you do.

    Well said. I think a lot of the tendency for women to critique each other comes from insecurity at not being able to live up to perverted ideals of femininity we did not invent, and that we are punished for not living up to. (You can look at my banner and predict my view on that one.)

    Lissa wrote:

    except for the nighttime feedings they use bottles to allow Daddy to share in the caring of the boy.

    I am glad you mention this, because this is another reason many women choose to express milk. My kids, of course, would have none of this, at least not if I was within smelling distance.

    Lissa wrote:

    Pump all you like – but do it on your own time and don’t expect others to pick up your slack in the name of breastfeeding.

    She sounds inconsiderate, to me, but why couldn’t the employer have found a spot for her?

    This point — and I do understand where you are coming from — is one I have heard a lot in my day, being the only faculty member in my department with young children. There is no excuse for selfishness, but I think we do have to ask ourselves what we as a society owe to dependents and the people who are expending the effort to care for them, even when they are not, strictly speaking, “ours”.

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  15. In response to all this, I have to say I’m very lucky, in that we could afford for me to stay home, and that worked for me. I breast-fed for about six months, supplementing a bit with formula as I didn’t produce enough, until the kid was hungry enough all the time that attempting to breast feed caused him to stop gaining weight, so we switched to formula and cereal.

    Staying home full-time doesn’t work for a lot of people though, and I really agree with all the above that there should be options for flexible work schedules for anyone with dependents (male or female) that aren’t as punitive as most current options.

    What would’ve been ideal for us, would’ve been if my husband could’ve worked part-time for a few weeks after my maternity leave was up, but that just isn’t done. I could take time off, so I was supposed to do so, while he stayed at work. (Which is more an anti-civilian bias than a ‘women should stay at home’ policy, as in families where the woman is active duty, the civilian parent is the one expected to take time off for sick days and field trips, etc.)

    But back on topic…

    Jessica wrote:

    Keishon wrote:
    I had a patient call and ask me about taking some meds while breastfeeding. She stated that her son is 5 years old and it’s more for HIS benefit, not hers (something to do with bond?).
    It’s common for nursing moms to think about what they are putting into their mouths and how it might affect their children, but to my knowledge, breastfeeding is not a reliable way to administer medicine to children.

    I think she meant she was worried about the effect her medicine would have on the kid, not about a way to take her kid’s medicine for him. (The more for his benefit was talking about the breastfeeding bond, not the medicine.)

    ETA: As for the woman who took 4 out of 8 work hours managing her breast-feeding, while I generally think we should support new mothers, I do think she should have had an option to legitimately work half-time, so work would be work, and she could spend the rest of the day with her child. Cause having someone at work who isn’t working is excessively difficult for everyone, even the one not working, I would think.

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  16. Just to clarify a bit – because reading my post, I did sound a bit critical of my co-worker:

    I had no issue with her breastfeeding, or her pumping – or even her using the bathroom to pump. My issue stemmed from the amount of time she spent in the bathroom and then her leaving her gear there. There was no cabinet, just a single sink with a small counter and she would wash out her pump and leave it on the counter to dry, along with breast pads and nipple cream. Then after pumping she would leave to go feed the child. I could never understand why she didn’t just skip the pumping and go to the daycare and feed him. No mess at the office and half the time spent away from work.

    Part of my issue probably stemmed from the amount of maternity leave she had already taken (6 months)then the fact that she brought the infant into the office for a period of time (3 months)and then the whole pumping thing. This occurred over a years time. I am all for employees making maternity leave and/or breastfeeding time available to mother’s without penality – but there has to be some consideration for the rest of us at the office. Given the open plan nature of our office, her infant crying at her desk made it difficult for me to conduct my job in a professional manner and there was no way to broach the subject with her or the boss without sounding anti-parenting.

    Okay – enough with that.

    Jessica said: but I think we do have to ask ourselves what we as a society owe to dependents and the people who are expending the effort to care for them, even when they are not, strictly speaking, “ours”.

    I think we owe parents the opportunity to stay home and care for their infants without losing their jobs and the flexibilty to be available for young children – I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with mine, so it wasn’t an issue for me. However having said that, an office is a place of business, not a daycare. While I didn’t object to my coworker having the time and opportunity to pump and feed her son, bringing him to the office, leaving the office to feed, tying up the bathroom to pump was disruptive to the rest of us in the office – and she was not the only one with young children, just the only one doing these things. I think the parents of young children need to take some responsibility for their choices as well – if you choose to or have to work, you need to be available during those work hours to do the job for which you are being paid. Sometimes you have to give up one thing for something else.

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  17. @ Lissa:
    Thanks for clarifying, Lissa. Parents can be selfish and thoughtless, just like everyone else. It sounds like this person took her status as a new mother as carte blanche to disregard the needs of her coworkers.

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  18. While appreciating how annoying it must have been to have the bathroom tied up — why the hell wasn’t this woman given a PRIVATE, HYGENIC space to pump? Pumping is difficult under the most idealic of circumstances, something very few people appreciate if they have never done it. And would you want your food prepared in the bathroom?

    The person at fault here is the employer, for not providing an appropriate space for pumping. This is in a sense blaming the victim.

    As to why she didn’t just go nurse the kid — maybe she couldn’t.

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  19. It’s common for nursing moms to think about what they are putting into their mouths and how it might affect their children, but to my knowledge, breastfeeding is not a reliable way to administer medicine to children.

    Well, yes, she was asking me if the cold medicine she was taking was compatible but she just mentioned as an aside for my knowledge, that her son was 5 years old and she was still breastfeeding him and it was more for his benefit to continue to breastfeed him at that age because of his need to be secure. But my co-worker completely surprised me yesterday when she said her mother breastfeeds her 3 y/o daughter. She works that much that her child refers to her grandmother as “mother” and she also sleeps with her grandmother and I just learned, breastfeeds her as well.

    Sorry, I was rushing to work and my comment was badly worded. Thanks for the reply and I agree, I don’t always recommend cold meds outside of normal saline to nursing moms. A lot of them would rather suffer than put anything into their mouth to alleviate a cold if it has adverse effects to the child because the medication is excreted into the breast milk.

    Like

  20. I guess I’m the odd one out posting here because I didn’t have a desire to breastfeed, ever. I didn’t think it was gross or disgusting; I just had no desire to do it. No matter how many times people tried to cram their breastfeeding beliefs down my throat I didn’t change my opinion. Oddly enough I got the least hassle for my decision at the hospital after I had my son. They asked if I would be breastfeeding, I said no, they got me some formula. The end. It was a nice change.

    I did try breastfeeding about a week after he was born though. My grandmother kept harping on me about how much bonding I was missing out on and how I would regret it. So I tried it just to make sure I wasn’t making some huge mistake. I wasn’t. There was no mystical bond that only a mother can experience with her child (for me at least). It was like feeding him a bottle but it was my boob instead. I’m glad I tried it out though. At least now I know.

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