Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My response to the New Yorker breastfeeding/pumping article

You may have seen Jill Lepore's article in the New Yorker, "Baby Food: If breast is best, why are women bottling their milk?" Then you may have read Kate Harding's critique on, "Throwing the baby out with the breast pump."

I posted this letter at Salon under the critique:

Pumping isn't the only option

It's a pretty comprehensive piece. What's missing: That pumped milk is a better choice than none, but a poorer choice than actual breastfeeding for reasons beyond emotional (physiological and medical). That an option somewhere between lactation rooms and lengthier maternity leave is on-site or nearby day care so the baby can breastfeed (the real thing, with actual human contact) a few times a day, taking no more time than pumping. And even better, employers realizing that babies in the workplace (gasp!) and mothers working from home are not revolutionary, but something that has worked well for many since the beginning of human existence. (I personally know it works for farm women, for example, but maybe not for on-duty skyscraper window-washers).

It's true that pumps may actually have a negative effect on breastfeeding in some, but certainly not all, cases. They're not nearly as efficient as the baby, so seeing a measly few teaspoons in the bottom of a bag can be disheartening. I've had a number of women who were WIC clients call and ask me how they can get an inexpensive pump, believing one was necessary for breastfeeding even if no mother-baby separation was in the cards.

The author was just plain wrong here: "Pumps put milk into bottles, even though many of breast-feeding's benefits to the baby, and all of its social and emotional benefits, come not from the liquid itself but from the smiling and cuddling (stuff that people who aren't breast-feeding can give babies, too)." Other caregivers can smile at and cuddle the baby, but it's not the same as Mom. The Salon piece seems to recognize this.

Regarding the Salon review, I don't see the ulterior motive she thinks the New Yorker author was trying to say. The New Yorker author is a writer; I'm pretty sure she could have found the words to state her point if it was anything other that what she did write. Those who are reading something into this that isn't there might be feeling some pangs of guilt themselves.

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