Pumped up: Why we’ve failed moms in and outside of the office

Dairy cows do it. Goats do it. And now, hundreds of thousands of working moms do it. Yes, hook up to the pumping machine to express milk. Everyone knows that breastmilk is best, so why does all this pumping make me, a nursing mom, feel so uncomfortable? (And so bovine?)

While part of me is pleased that folks are coming round to the concept of feeding babies what nature intended, it bothers me that we’re encouraging yet another system that unfairly burdens mothers with more tasks, rather than supports them at a very vulnerable time.

New babies are tiring. They can eat as often as 12 times a day. There are wakeups so frequent that at times it’s impossible to communicate the exhaustion to anyone who’s not had a child or been part of some grand experiment on sleep deprivation. So, you add one more time-consuming, not-so-pleasant expectation to this list, and it seems unreasonable to me.

Pumping is a good second choice, but it’s not the same as breastfeeding. First of all, it’s not time with baby; time spent pumping at work is time someone else spends with your child. Second, nursing delivers milk straight to the baby without an intermediary. In other words, breasts don’t need to be washed in the dishwasher and they aren’t coated with BPA or the next chemical in a baby bottle that we discover could be cancer-causing. And third, probably most important, pumping is not as effective at removing milk, and therefore makes it harder for many mothers to maintain an adequate milk supply over time.

In fact, this increasingly common “second best” option appears to be suspiciously profitable for the folks selling the pumping gear. With electric pumps like Medela’s Pump in Style toting a $270 price tag, this trend isn’t just “helping” working moms. It funds an entire industry! Instead of millions on bottles, formula, and all the accoutrements that go along with milk substitutes, we’re spending our money on technology that does what our babies can do for free. Hand pumps, electric pumps, pump-n-go attachments for your car’s cigarette lighter, bottles, storage bags … the list goes on and on, and we’re paying because we don’t have the needed financial support to take care of our babies during this critical period.

Over half of all mothers return to the workforce by the time their new baby is 6 months old,  and some studies show that over 40% have returned to work by three months after delivery. I have this crazy idea that we should have better options. I know that many women might prefer to return to work before their baby is 6 months, even if they didn’t have pressing financial needs to return. But it appears that a huge percentage of new moms are returning to the workplace because they need the money.

So as I mentioned in my last blog, here are a couple ideas: Give mothers incentives to stay with their babies for that 6 month breastfeeding window by offering paid maternity leave during that time. The longer a woman stays at home, the better her chances of breastfeeding. For the next six months, provide better incentives for businesses to offer flexible childcare solutions that keep mother and baby close, like working from home and in-work childcare so that mothers can feed their babies during the workday.


Hilary S.
Hilary S9 years ago

Another great article on this topic. Short summary: promoting pumping is the gov's cheap way of avoiding paid maternity leave.