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The Breast Versus The Breast Pump

Posted Jan 27 2009 5:40pm
  • Can breast milk be sold on eBay (yes, the FDA has not acted on this yet),
  • Can women be excused for nursing breaks during exams (no, breastfeeding is not recognized in the American with Disabilities Act)
  • Can a nursing women who drinks alcohol be charged with child abuse (maybe, hasn't happened yet).
  • Can a woman bring more than 3 ounces of breast milk on the plane (yes, it's now recognized as "liquid medicine" by the Transportation Security Administration)
  • Is pumping in public a crime (maybe, no one charged yet)
  • Must companies provide a private place for nursing mothers to pump (depends on the state, Oregon requires companies with more than 25 employees to provide a "non-bathroom" lactation area)

I learned all this and more in Jill Lepore's illuminating and detailed look at the breast pump in The New Yorker (January 19, 2009) - " Baby Food: If Breast Is Best, Why Are Women Bottling Their Milk?".

Lepore does an excellent job of examining the issues surrounding the breast pump from placing it in the history of breastfeeding (Victorian women poo-poohed the breast for the new baby bottles), reviewing the legal aspects, and of course, giving us all these wonderful new terms:

  • expressed human milk (milk pumped, squeezed, or sucked out of a breast by hand or by a machine)
  • feeding human milk (not to be confused with breast feeding)
  • lactivist
  • nurse-ins
  • human milk bank (who knew? the Human Milk Banking Association of North America?)
  • mamma ex machina

Moreover, she really brings to the table the many challenges, questions, and conflicts women face in feeding their babies today. Some arising from the conflict between the breast and the pump, many absurd. Like this one:

The University of Minnesota provides nursing employees a room to pump their milk. Within the privacy of the Expression Connection, women may hook up to the pump but they are not permitted to actually breastfeed their babies.

She asks tough questions too. Is taking 3 twenty-minute pump breaks better than leaving work an hour earlier, and thus spending an extra hour with baby? Should we be focusing more on giving women more time with baby (via family leave policies) than on bestowing breast pumps and lactaction rooms on employees? Do the supposed benefits of breastfeeding come from the milk itself (e.g., fatty acids?) or the act of sucking from a breast (e.g., skin contact, mother-infant bonding).

Hard questions, these. None of which we have solid answers for at the moment. Some of which can only be answered by individuals, each woman making the decision for herself, which is best for her and her child and her family. Let's face it - it's a new frontier, this expression of breast milk, breast milk in the work place, on the air plane, in the Internet auction. Best we keep an open mind if only to the absurdities of this new phenomenon..

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