Saturday, April 4, 2009

Throwing the Baby Out with the Breast Pump

In her April 2 blog post, Judith Warner weighs in on Hanna Rosin's anti-breastfeeding article and podcast on the Atlantic web site. To describe her reaction to Rosin's description of how bad the breast pump sucks Warner writes: "Hallelujah, I all but shouted at the computer, desperate to join in the conversation with these newfound sure-to-be best friends."

And that says it all. Because the rest of the post shows Warner desperate to be in with the cool girls. To get in, she says what she has to -- that she breastfed her daughters and wouldn't give up that experience for the world, but she didn't breastfeed exclusively, as she claims the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends doing for six months, because she was in France, where everything is so much better and so much more civilized. We should just get rid of the "horrible" pump already and then women will be free to experience the wonder of breastfeeding not-exclusively. Now will you be friends with me Hanna?

So, first, the business: Many pediatricians I've spoken to, including one of my closest friends, only recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months if severe allergies run in your family. If not, six weeks to three months are great, give some cereal at four to five months, figure out what works for you, they say, find the balance, they recommend. It's so reassuring, that advice. So, I don't know, professional.

Now on to the whole damning and banning of the pump. No one likes pumping; I can say that categorically. But, sometimes you have to do it. I had to do it to build up my milk supply. A friend had to do it because one of her breasts was engorged. Another does it because she needs other people to feed her baby when she works. Saying 'breastfeed and just get rid of the pump' is a little bit like saying 'I love my lover and now that I've gotten rid of my beloved's bad breath everything is perfect.' You can't do it. No experience is perfect. Everything we do, especially as parents, is nuanced and textured and tinged with a little something we'd rather not have around. But you deal with it. If Rosin's and Warner's goal is simply to promote the idea that a little formula never hurt anyone, can't they just say that? Do they have to go to such extremes? As Ceridwen Morris and Rebecca Odes write over at The New Mom: " Is it necessary to take down breastfeeding to make it okay to not do it some of the time?" Warner's categorical dismissal of the pump is, like Rosin's article, reductive and distracting from the real work of making parenthood a feasible, manageable and affordable state for everyone who enters into it.

In writing for big players in mainstream media, Rosin and Warner get to shape what we talk about and the way we talk about. That they're choosing to mostly talk to each other in the broad strokes best left to dinner parties shows a kind of smallness of purpose. From their platforms of authority they can challenge cultural orthodoxy. It'd be nice if they were a good bit more challenging and a good bit less preening when they choose to do so.


roni said...

Your post reminded me of the reasons I stopped reading Judith Warner last year. I don't have kids, but most of my friends do and they would absolutely agree with you that no one likes pumping. Nor did they like trying to function on 2 hours of sleep during their kids' first year and I don't see Warner suggesting that maybe it's time professional women consider a night nanny. That might prevent more women from "opting out," which if Warner is to believed, is the great crisis of our time.

Robin Aronson said...

There are so many reasons not like Warner -- every so often she gets something just right, but too often she's too smug inside her little bubble....The sleep problem....well...that's a problem I din't think even Warner has the chutzpah to get near....