Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fascinating article on pumping breast milk

In this week's The New Yorker, Jill Lepore explores the phenomenon of breast pumping in her article "Baby Food: If breast is best, why are women bottling their milk?" It's definitely worth the time to read. I have already come across commentary to the article, including this post from the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. Read both and share your thoughts!


  1. Both very interesting. I rarely pump. Only when I need a date alone with my hubby! And even then, my little guy hardly cooperates by actually drinking all my hard work from the bottle! It is a tough culture that we are forced to live with. Some women don't have the luxury of being able to stay at home with their babies. Some women just choose not to have that luxury. Regardless of the situation, I believe that "breast is best", in that it is best for everyone involved (in many ways) for the babe to get everything straight from the tap!

  2. I agree the articles are really interesting, although neither one really addresses the fact that pumps can be useful for mothers who primarily breastfeed the traditional way. My daughter, for example, would ONLY drink from a bottle unless we were in a completely distraction-free room, so this was the only way I got out of the house for more than a couple hours when she was an infant. We also had to basically force-feed her by pouring milk down her throat from when she was two days old (she was fine until my milk came in) until she was a couple weeks old; this was an ordeal with a breast pump, but would have been much more difficult without one. My son never had any breastfeeding issues, so our pump has been left largely untouched for the past year. I have several friends who wouldn't have breastfed their children at all if they hadn't had the option of pumping and bottlefeeding until they got the hang of breastfeeding. So, while I agree that breast is best, sometimes pumps help women continue breastfeeding even if they aren't being separated from their children because of a return to work.

  3. I personally would rather see women pump and feed their babies breast milk, vs taking the easy way out...and just going with formula.
    I for one am preggo, and will have to go back to work after 3 months, so will have to pump while at work. I just don't have a choice. I will def. BF every chance I get, and will only feed bottles of breastmilk when I am gone.

    Either way...the main concern is nutrition, and as long as babes are getting "liquid gold" doesn't matter how they get it. Of cource, who wouldn't want that bonding experience of breast feeding....

  4. i've only read the first article so i'll comment on that. i'm not a big fan of big govt. so i won't jump on board and blame the us govt for not wiping our butts and whatnot.
    i think the big reason for the increase in pumping is our inflated standard of living.
    we've got to have a lexus or two in the garage, a plasma tv, and such and such. getting used to double income no kid (DINK) lifestyle before a baby is born cause people to "need" to work to keep it up. the pump keeps the bills paid and our consciouses at bay.

  5. "i think the big reason for the increase in pumping is our inflated standard of living.
    we've got to have a lexus or two in the garage, a plasma tv, and such and such. getting used to double income no kid (DINK) lifestyle before a baby is born cause people to "need" to work to keep it up. the pump keeps the bills paid and our consciouses at bay."

    Some women choose to keep working because we enjoy the intellectual stimulation and challenges of a career, not the plasma TVs and the lexus. And some women don't have a choice but to go back to work. I applaud women who have the committment to making sure their babies get the benefits of breastmilk by pumping, whatever the reasons they need to do so instead of feeding directly, and I think the old adage about walking a mile in someone's shoes might apply here.

    Personally, I'd go nuts if I had to stay with a baby 24/7 and didn't get the intellectual stimulation I need. I'm a person, an individual with needs, and my needs are important.

  6. Thanks for the link Rixa, very good article. RamosFamily, I hope pumping will work out well for you!!! It's what the author aptly called the "the cheap way out" and it never worked for me (i.e. promoting pumping over extended maternity leave or employer provided day care). I imagine I am not exceptional in that I cannot express enough to replace regular daily feedings; both babies were weaned a couple months after introducing the bottle, and then supplementing because pumping was insufficient. And what a great point: is it the mother or her milk which the infant needs most?

  7. I have to agree with Elizabeth. I think a lot of the breakdown of the American family started when Mom decide to leave the home. I know that's not very popular in today's world, but it's what I think:) Of course, I know some women now days have to work to make ends meet, but life is so much less stressful in my home with me at home. As for pumping, as MaryAnne pointed out, neither article really discussed those of us who pump occasionally for a night out. I enjoy our monthly Ladies Meetings at our church, as well as leaving my babies in the church nursery on Sundays. So, I usually pump a couple of times a week and store some milk in the fridge for those occasions.

  8. i began im pumping after returning back at work this week; timely post rixa. Im the wage earner and my husband looks after our baby full time. i express at work and its a bit of a chore but its what i want to do, my baby is 8 months old. i thought we had moved on from 'women need to stay at home' and 'before women worked life was just peachy' and 'its womens fault the world is doomed and families are in crisis'. breast is best - is breast milk in a bottle from a fathers hand just as good?

  9. I think pumps are great. I think it's sad though that so many women feel like they need to pump and then feed a bottle in public because of negative reactions. It's like society says, "oh, breastfeeding is great, just not breasts. That part is bad, and I don't want to know about it." When women pump for this reason, they can bypass society's awkwardness and sexual hangups over breasts, saying, "I'm breastfeeding, but don't worry, don't look at me funny because I'm not actually using my breasts."

  10. It is a REALITY these days that women go to work, pumping milk, when both mom and baby would prefer the feedings to come straight from the breast. That's the world we live in. If you are so privileged to have the economic situation to afford being SAHM by virtue of low student/housing/etc. debt and a high-earning spouse, well then good for you. I have been pumping for 10 months now, and it is one thing I could do to feel a little less GUILTY about leaving my daughter in full-time childcare. Some of that guilt comes from OTHER WOMEN like some of you posters...Thanks a lot folks!!!

  11. As a mother who EP'd for 12 months, I understand that pumping has its place. However, it really worries me that women rely *so much* on machines to care for their babies: dopplers, EFM, the machines that go "ping", swings, breast pumps, etc.

  12. Very intersting article. I will have to go back to work just two weeks after my babe is born (no paid maternity leave, sole breadwinner while hubby finishes master's. Sorry Elizabeth, there is no lexus in my garage), and I had been feeling rather matter-of-fact about needing to pump. It's what working mothers do, after all.

    After reading this, though, I'm left feeling a bit depressed and angry at corporate America/government. As the article points out, employers and lawmakers are taking the cheap way out by encouraging pumping instead of providing mothers more time off work to nurse their babies. Our society lays so many guilt trips on mothers to parent the "right way", but we make NO effort to help women care for their children and provide for their families.

  13. To Elizabeth, who doesn't want big U.S. government to wipe her butt (in your very own words!) I am always fascinated by the utter lack of insight, nuance, and basic human empathy in run-of-the-mill kneejerk neoconservative fundamentalist drivel like you posted here. Please. I know you can do better than this. Let's try again.

    I believe Lepore did a pretty good job outlining the reasons why pumping has become such an extensive phenomenon, and I'm sorry to say that your comment about plasma TVs does not seem to contribute much to that analysis. She did show us that breastfeeding rates are higher in higher income categories, and you would agree that a woman has to breastfeed in the first place in order to pump any milk. It is the breastfeeding rates among lower income families that is so stubbornly low, and for low income working mothers, their separation from their babies almost always means weaning because their places of work offer the least opportunity to pump.

    Now, you could just say that that's their business, and leave it at that. Why should you care. It's dangerous to care. It might make you think. Thinking is dangerous. It might make you wonder about public health policy and labor law and other very suspicious things that big government might use as an excuse to wipe our butt with.

    But, I like dangerous thinking, so take a walk with me on the wild side. I happen to think that solution #2 is the most overlooked but the most practical solution. Workplace-based child care. I would love to see studies of how medium to large businesses could profit from offering this as a benefit to their employees. Let them get a tax break for investing in daycare on their premises, and giving their workers real lactation breaks with their actual babies. The culture of the American workplace does not tolerate children, but this can change. I can imagine a space for kids at work as an everyday and welcome sight. With empathy and open-mindedness and creativity, we can be a modern society, a free society, and a family friendly one all at once.

  14. Delurking here,
    I am going to be having a baby very soon, and I am able to take 5 weeks of leave.
    That might not sound like a lot to some, but as it has been said, not all of us have the option of losing an income, let alone the primary income and/or job with benefits (like health care-for the baby). Of the working women I know, this is more leave than any of them would get. It puts me in a relatively privileged position.
    I think it has less to do with a selfish lifestyle. I mean come on, who wouldn't want to take as much time as they needed before going back to work? And fathers too- ideally both parents would be able to stay home and bond with baby.
    Pumping at work (most likely in a bathroom) sounds a much more unpleasant than staying at home and being able to feed from the breast.
    I think women pump at work because that is the best choice they can make for their family.
    Quite frankly breast feeding is the thing that is the most daunting to me right now. I hope I have the determination and patience to see it through.
    The article was definitely interesting.
    Speaking of breast pumping, does anyone have suggestions for a good brand or model?

  15. I hate pumps with a deep and abiding passion. In the first days home with my daughter, they had me breastfeeding AND pumping AND supplementing with formula--the pump and formula were cheap substitutes for a good lactation consultant. Never mind that I was anemic and in no shape to be running downstairs every feeding to fetch bottles, or to be washing bottles and pump parts (I had no help at home at first). It was terrible for the breastfeeding relationship as well--the baby quickly learned to prefer the instant gratification of the bottle. Luckily I got some good advice in time, and went straight to breast-only.

    I have been on a "pumping strike" ever since.

  16. I really liked Lepore's point although I didn't like the article itself a ton. Better maternity leave seems to be the answer to a lot of problems -- the need to encourage breastfeeding, the desire for women to both mother children and have careers. I feel fortunate to be in grad school where although I am always working, I am home almost all of the time. I do pump for when I'm away. But I hate being away. I have such profound envy for our neighbors up north who get a year of partially compensated leave to be with their babies. I would relish the time to be a mother - it is so all-consuming at first. It would be amazing to be "returning" to work at this point, with Robin almost 1, versus when she was 1 month old and I was back in front of the classroom leaking breastmilk and hoping I wouldn't cry. Better paid leave serves all kinds of mothers really well. Pumps should be available but should not replace improved policy.

  17. Yes, but better paid leave means an increase on our taxes, which would force me to work, so I'm against that:) I would be all for better paid leave if they could figure out how to cut some of the "programs" and use that money instead of a tax hike.

  18. About the tax hike- a government subsidized maternity leave would be great. Currently we get nothing.
    The only cost would be to the employer, and really, it is not so much a cost as it would be an investment.
    Not only would they be investing in an employees future with their company, but instilling loyalty, increasing productivity, and having a better working atmosphere all around.
    By the way, which "programs" are you referring to?

  19. I like the info and history in this article. I am going back to work in a few weeks (my baby will be 3 months old). My dream is to be a SAHM, but as the primary breadwinner, it's off to work I go, while my husband stays home with the baby.
    I was pleased that my company not only subsidized the Medela Pump in Style, but also has a lactation room for me to pump in. Now, after reading this article, I feel like I'm being ripped off. I kind of wish I hadn't read it now. I'm doing the absolute best I can for my baby in our circumstances, and it sucks to be told that I'm being offered the worst option due to politics.

  20. Well, I was thinking tax hike more along the lines of the six month leave. I know a lot of companies simply could not afford that, as well as replacing the women who are on leave. As for the programs, I think there are a lot of things this country wastes money on, that could be put to better use. Too many people are stuck in the cycle of welfare and poverty, who would have a better life and give their children better lives if they started working and learning skills to be productive. I'm a bit biased in that area, since I've worked in HR for a fast food restaurant, and nothing drives me crazier than seeing perfectly healthy people work for two days and quit. Then a week later I'm getting food stamp forms and housing forms. These programs should help people get on their feet, and should be temporary, not a way of life as they are for so many. Once again, just my opinion.

  21. Didn't the promoters of this free market, anti-social-spending ideology just completely trash our economy, putting millions of families on the brink of bankruptcy --and here we are still having this tired old shortsighted debate about 'taxes'?

    Michelle, did your fast food company offer affordable family health coverage? After the employees paid their premiums, was there enough left to pay for child care? and after child care expenses, what was left of their paycheck?

    Somebody somewhere somehow will have to pay for the care and health of every child. Be it by high (i.e. single earner family) wages, quality private insurance, or free government programs. Either the cost is included in the price of products you buy like your hamburger, your Ford, your own HMO's premiums and copays, etc. -- or it is spread over federal or state budgets. Take your pick, but if you look at the big picture, you won't see you have so much to gain on our society denying people basic necessities, like maternity benefits. We are all in this together. Divided we will fall, and calling less fortunate people freeloaders is divisive.

    Apologies for speechifying!

  22. Judit,

    It's actually quite easy to work your way up in fast food into management and even into ownership. All it takes is work ethic. Top managers make six figures. The cycle of poverty is vicious, and but the chain CAN be broken. I loved the Will Smith movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. And look at our future President. It can be done. Like I said, I'm all for temporary assistance when people are working to better themselves. Food stamps, affordable housing, child care help, can be a great thing when someone is going to college or vocational school to learn a skill to support his or her family on. Just giving someone handouts who isn't trying, is like giving a drunk a drink imho.

  23. The problem with that, Michelle, is that it's not very nice - nor is it the sign of a civilised society - to leave people to starve. Especially if those people have children who will starve along with them.

    Make no mistake, that's what you're talking about.

    It's very easy for someone who has the talent, the health, and the motivation and the security to say that people just need a work ethic. But not everyone has all of those things. Some people don't have any of those things.

    To pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you have to have boots.


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