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April 4, 2009

Judith Warner, we love you, but you’re bringing us down.

Oh, Judith. You and Hanna Rosin both bring up a lot of great points. Pumping may not be the perfect answer to a working mother and hungry baby's needs. Breastfeeding advocacy can go way too far. Women should be given some flexibility on the question of what to feed their babies. Pressure and guilt are bad.

But your piece was laced with such disgust! Words like "grotesque" and "undignified"? How do those sound to the man on the street? To a pregnant mother, who’s thinking about whether to nurse or not? Who cares if your argument was ostensibly about pumping, not breastfeeding? The image of a lactating woman as a cow will linger a lot longer than those tiny disclaimers about how much you loved nursing. You say you wouldn’t have traded breastfeeding for the world. But you may well have made that trade for the women who read this piece and think, hmm, dignity vs. breastfeeding… maybe not.

We know there’s a strident voice out there saying “breast is best,” and we know it can royally suck to hear it when you’re struggling. But there’s a reason for that liquid gold fetish you’re talking about. It’s a defense against the much bigger fetish: breasts. As sex objects, not food sources. It’s easier for people to think in terms of science and statistics than think about where that fluid comes from. And let’s put this into perspective: Formula has been the primary food for the majority of babies in this country for more than half a century. There’s still a very squeamish attitude about nursing from the sexist camp (Bill Maher) and the old schoolers (Barbara Walters). If our New York Times feminist hero is telling everyone breastfeeding is disgusting, what will happen next?

We are more than sympathetic to the plight of the pumping mother. We have enjoyed many a bovine joke. But the pump is more than just a tool of oppression to help women strive toward some impossible standard of exclusive bf perfection.
Pumping is part of the reality of breastfeeding for lots of reasons: a premature baby; a job that resumes while supply is still being established (within the first 6 weeks postpartum); a life that includes random time away from the baby during which the mother doesn’t want to ejaculate milk on flight attendants, develop mastitis or otherwise suffer through engorgement. For these people, and for other women who may just like the idea of sustaining their babies on the milk their bodies produce, your piece was offensive. Is it necessary to take down breastfeeding to make it okay to not do it some of the time?

Pregnancy and breastfeeding challenge how we define our bodies and their purpose, and force us to see ourselves dually as we move forward as both mothers and women; animals and citizens. Pumping can make us painfully aware of these dualities. It can be annoying, emotional, enraging. Oxytocin—the bonding hormone—floods a woman’s body when milk is released. To feel all that bonding with no baby present can be hard. So is the solution to throw away the pump? Or throw away the job? Or throw away the baby? Or write letters to your congressperson demanding more maternity leave? How about women are given the choice to pump and/or feed formula as they see fit while we wait/fight for all the maternity leave and flexibility we deserve. What we don’t need is a guilt trip from the “breastfeeding Nazis” in one ear and a sneer from the New York Times in the other.

Yes, the breastfeeding zealots are a nightmare, but so are the backlashers.

What about the real women caught in the middle of all this?

(for more critiques see here, here and here.)

by rebecca and ceridwen at 10:47 AM
in breastfeeding | media momming | the balancing act


I totally agree. It's so true that the take-away of both pieces was a big EW, YUCK to breast feeding. The thing that makes me so furious is that these women are a real force in the public debate about how we use our bodies and our time and our minds as mothers and women and here they are mouthing off on breast feeding in this awful, limited way. Irresponsible is right. Thanks for posting this.

comment by amy at April 7, 2009 3:20 PM

That thing about how Rosin's sex life is taking a hit because of the breast pump??? Can anyone say BIGGER PROBLEMS?

comment by DCMOM at April 7, 2009 3:29 PM

That thing about how Rosin's sex life is taking a hit because of the breast pump??? Can anyone say BIGGER PROBLEMS?

comment by DCMOM at April 7, 2009 3:29 PM

I breastfed both my kids for a long time and pumped tons. I didn't love pumping but-- in the context of my highly corporate *other* life-- the pumping gave me a small way to connect with my baby and myself as a mother. Also, I could never have kept up breastfeeding at night if not for pumping.

comment by agatha at April 7, 2009 3:32 PM

Throw away the pump and most babies with special needs don't get adequately fed from day one. Sad that these women can't see beyond their own circumstances.

comment by lc at April 7, 2009 3:34 PM

I breastfed and pumped tons due to a pretty intense corporate job. I didn't love pumping but it gave me a small way to connect with my baby and myself as a mother during the day. Also, I could never have kept up breastfeeding at night if not for pumping. Thanks for writing this!

comment by agatha at April 7, 2009 9:54 PM

THANK YOU! I am tired of being verbally attacked if I happen to pump or use formula. My kiddo is a month old and my milk still doesn't fill her up 100% of the time and rather than listen to her scream or starve I do what I have to do! No mother should ever feel guilty about the choices she makes to take care of her children as long as it isn't harming them.

comment by Lolly at April 27, 2009 5:33 PM

Just wanted everyone to know that Stroller Patroller is giving away a Micarlite Toro stroller in you choice of color and is also throwing in a car seat adapter.

All you have to do to enter is go to Stroller Patroller's blog and enter by adding a comment:


comment by Jason Hickerson at May 5, 2009 12:12 AM

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