Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Breastfeeding is not the same as "expressing milk"

This week, the never-fails-me New Yorker has an article on breastfeeding. I know, they know no limits to their inquiry. But, the article brings up a very interesting point: "If 'breast is best', why are women bottling their milk?"

When has pumping milk become "just-as-good" as actually nursing the baby? Companies producing the breast pumps (which have much in common with the milk pumps used on cattle, no surprise there) invest a lot of money into promoting their products, lobbying offices to setup 'lactation rooms' and lobbying government to provide breast pump subsidy to poor families. Interestingly, babies are not allowed to be brought into most 'lactation rooms' - and feeding a baby breast milk from a bottle is nowhere near feeding the baby at the breast.

May be it's my foreignness talking, but I find the breastmilk craze such an American thing. This country has such a hard time NOT seeing things in black and white. Everything is either good or bad. Kind or evil. For us or against us. And after things are colored black or white, they must be quantified, scientifically analyzed, one true answer must be found, and then EVERYTHING must change.

And this is how we go to the point where the breast MILK is a must-have, but the actual BREAST, apparently, can go missing. Where are the studies showing how much of the positive effect of breastfeeding is due to just milk, and how much is due to contact with the mother, her heartbeat and her embrace? How much of the positive effect is due to the nutritional and antibacterial qualities of the milk, and how much is due to the feeling of comfort and "rightness with the world" that a child has while suckling? We cannot quantify these things - but we pretend that, away from the mother, away from contact, away from its natural context, breastmilk will still cure all like some sort of magical elixir.

Even women themselves are complicit. We become outraged if there are no milk expressing rooms at work, but not if there is no daycare on-site. La Leche League spends its time promoting breast pumps instead of lobbying the government to give mothers a decent maternity leave. "Mommy Bloggers" spend their time harrassing Facebook for having taken down some breastfeeding pictures, instead of promoting feeding - not pumping. We are fighting so hard, just not for the real cause.

Pumping into a bottle, cleaning bottle and pump, storing the bottle, is certainly not any more convenient then simply breastfeeding the child - and any mother will tell you it is NOT enjoyable, like breastfeeding a child is. So why do we not only settle for pumping milk, but treat it as the right thing to do? Why don't we demand to be with our kids instead? Elijah rejects his bottle. He knows it's not the same as being at the breast with Mom, and he won't settle for less. May be we shouldn't either.


Cecilia Newell said...

Wow, interesting. Breast milk good, formula bad. That's all some people think about, therefore, the illogical assumption that promoting pumping is just as good as promoting breastfeeding...obviously these people have never breastfed a child.

Anonymous said...

wow, you're so completely ignorant. have you talked to a mother who pumps or even feeds formula to her baby (i'm one). Your foreigness cannot account for simple ignorance, which happens to transcend all political boundaries my friend. Black and white? Our "western" world has long had the help of other people to raise babies, but today's moms don't, so why are you so hard on moms who pump or feed formula from a bottle? The world is a different place than it was pre-Victorian era, like dads being more involved in raising children. No, they're not like women, and that is how the world is different. Just like lesbians or gays, the world is not black and white, so why would raising babies be any different than the world!? Go to the library, educate yourself. What a disgusting blog to find when I'm concerned about my pumped breast milk and looking for info and support. Ruined my night.

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