Some pumping perspective

9 April 2009 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I had to attend a meeting at Google’s Cambridge office and had the opportunity to use their “Mom’s Room” in order to pump. I was impressed the company had bothered to make the effort. My own employer has been wonderfully supportive of my choice to continue to breast-feed since returning to work full-time and provides an empty office in which to pump. Ultimately Google’s Mom’s Room just adds in some comfortable recliners, a sink and a mini fridge. But the added effort made to provide a designated pumping space struck me as such a simple and low cost way to demonstrate a companies values. And it’s a reminder to me of just how far we’ve come in terms of supporting working mothers. Just ten years ago my sister was expected to try and pump standing up in a shower stall in the  men’s locker room when she returned to work. Not surprisingly she opted to quit her job instead.

In part because of my work situation, choosing to pump so that my son can continue to be exclusively breast-fed was never hard. To me it was not just the healthy food choice, it was low cost and low effort. But I also found that breast-feeding came easily: no latch problems, good nipples, a wide support group of women to help me get it right in the early weeks. I very much understand that this puts me in a category of women that count themselves as fortunate. But while some of what aided my easy breast-feeding relationship boiled down to what nature provided, a good deal has also been the result of the people I was surrounded by. 

When I looked outside of my immediate social circle a different picture emerged. Over the exact time period during which I enjoyed the early days of my first breast-feeding experience, there began a slow uptick of anti-breast feeding in the media . First there was the hoopla that was stirred when Facebook opted to ban pictures of nursing mamas. And with that it seemed the flood gates were opened. Suddenly formula feeding moms took to soapboxes large and small, voicing their frustrations with what they seemed to view as a societal pressure to breast-feed. (See: The Boston Globe, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times)

The outpouring was heart wrenching and often infuriating… clearly there were more than a few women who not only didn’t find breast-feeding easy, they had formed resentments over the struggle to make it work—especially when returning to their careers—and were now openly loathing women in my situation as though we were some how beating them into submission with our breast pumps. There has unquestionably been a push to encourage mothers to breast-feed from the greater medical community including banning gift bags from formula manufacturers in hospitals and bringing in more lactation consultants. But even with all the “Breast is Best” campaigning, the statistics still reflect a large preference for formula feeding among women—particularly after three months.  

To me the debate is pointless but the sentiment is troublesome. Regardless of your preference, women need to be supporting women in order for us to demand better treatment by the society at large. Is it any wonder that we’re still seeing women kicked off of planes for nursing and associations made between pumping and cows when even fellow moms can’t seem to agree to get along when it comes to how we feed out children? I read these stories written by intelligent women in esteemed publications and find myself wondering, is that Google Mom’s Room a reflection of positive change? Or will it end up merely an example of a brief trend?

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