Wednesday, January 14, 2009

History of pumping in New Yorker

Remember my post the other day highlighting a journal article on the history of breastfeeding? Well, the New Yorker has a new article up entitled "Baby Food," which details the politics of pumping. Writer Jill Lepore argues that the history of breastfeeding is inextricably connected to the social and political climes of any given era. Back in the day, if you were poor, you breastfed and if you weren't, you either had someone else do it (wet nurse) or you could afford to pay for formula after the turn of the century.
But in the new millennium we've added an extra conundrum. Lepore says ours is the age of the breast pump and that the stark difference between being able to nurse your baby and being able to provide breast milk after you've returned to work by pumping cannot be overstated. She raises an excellent point that I think we as lactivists need to argue for: more and better maternity leave, less encouragement of breast pumps, pump breaks and lactation rooms.
Mid-nineteenth-century America was gripped by a cult of motherhood. Then, a few decades later, many women refused to nurse.

I mean, really, which would you rather do? Is this just another area where feminism has let us down? As Lepore argues,

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). Breast-feeding involves cradling your baby; pumping involves cupping plastic shields on your breasts and watching your nipples squirt milk down a tube. But this truth isn’t just rarely overstated; it’s rarely stated at all...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?”

It seems like once again breastfeeding is linked to a class structure. You have to be educated and well-read to truly understand and believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, but you can't continue to breastfeed once you return to work unless you can afford an expensive pump and have the "luxury" of a place in which to use it. Who is benefiting from this in the end? It doesn't seem to be moms and babies.

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